There are about five weeks remaining until over two million students return to Ontario classrooms. As families enjoy some semblance of normalcy in summer break, a large unknown looms before them – what is the back-to-school plan this fall? We do not know.
School boards have some idea, a continuation of indoor masking, quadmesters in secondary school, and some of the other restrictions put in place in the 2020-21 school year. The measures worked for keeping students safe in school when they were in-person learning. Half of the school year was spent on a computer screen at home, to the detriment of learning. The long-term implications of remote learning are not known yet, but there will be a significant impact the pandemic has on education. All the more reason to have a clear and fulsome plan and let all stakeholders – including families – in on it.
Local MPP Jim McDonell told The Leader recently that we will not see that plan until a couple of weeks before the start of the school year. He blamed health officials wanting the most recent data before making the decision. That does not follow what senior government leaders have said.
Premier Doug Ford said repeatedly that the “buck stops with him.” Education Minister Stephen Lecce has also said that the government puts student safety and learning at the forefront. With that said, as many parents consider what they are going to do after this summer, why is this plan not out?
The COVID-19 Science Table has already issued guidance and recommendations for returning to class in September. Public health unit chairs like Dr. Paul Roumeliotis of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit have said that in-person learning in classrooms is extremely important and needs to be done. So what is the hold up Minister Lecce?
We have seen this before. In the summer of 2020, after many false starts and excuses, Lecce released his ministry’s reopening plan for school. A year later, families deserve to know well in advance all contingencies and how the school year will look.
No plan is perfect. We cannot account for every unknown variable and curve ball with the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ontarians have had to pivot and adapt as we learned more about COVID-19 and how to try to slow the spread of the virus. Plans can adapt, and change, but there must first be a plan. So far we have not seen one for back-to-school this fall.
Families deserve to know what the plan for the known variables is. Ontario families have a right to know. To offer less, or no information is a disservice to the two million students in the province.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, there is no excuse for families to be left twisting in the wind waiting.