THUNDER BAY – The vice-president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says if social distancing is good enough for bars and restaurants, it’s good enough for the classroom.
On Wednesday, Paul Caccamo joined a handful of teachers and education workers in a protest outside Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle’s Thunder Bay-Superior North constituency office, demanding the Conservative provincial government invest millions to hire more teacher and create safe spaces in Ontario schools.
If they don’t Caccamo said teachers are going to be put in a tough spot, many afraid to return to a work environment not properly prepared to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The province simply doesn’t have a proper return-to-school plan in place, and time is running out, he added. Ontario schools shut down in March due to coronavirus concerns, and have yet to reopen.
The fear is real, Caccamo said, but clarified that the union and its members want children back in the classroom in the fall.
“But we believe the resources have to be in place to make that safe. Our concern is this government has not adequately funded. In fact, they’ve spent the first two years of their mandate stripping public education of adequate funding and it’s led to a further deterioration of the available supports in schools,” Caccamo said.
“Now that we’re in this pandemic, we believe it’s the right time to invest significantly, so the supports are in place for students to return to school in a manner that allows them to socially distance and engage in learning that is so critical to their development.”
It means hiring more teachers, making use of available alternative spaces, including empty schools, and hiring more cleaning staff to ensure schools are sanitized each and every day. Caccamo said 15 students per class should be the goal until the pandemic subsides. At present, class sizes must not average more than 26 students, though the number varies by grade level.
The province is expected to announce its reopening plans on Thursday, which could include a full return to the classroom, a hybrid model, or online learning only.
The Liberals, the third party in the Ontario legislature, earlier this week announced what they are calling a fully costed return-to-school plan, which would add 140 more educators and 110 caretakers in Thunder Bay alone. In total it would cost $3.2 billion and would see 15,000 more elementary teachers and 10,000 more caretakers hired, along with 2,000 secondary school teachers. The plan would spend $200 million to make use of community centres, campuses and arenas to house teachers and students.
Gravelle said the only way to make students and staff safe at school is to put in place the proper safeguard and hold proper consultation with parents, teachers and educators.
“It’s very important that this is done in the proper manner and the government has not come up with a mark so far and we’re hopeful with rallies like today, we can make things happen,” he said.
Protestors also gathered in front of the constituency office of Thunder Bay-Atikokan NDP MP Judith Monteith-Farrell.