Catholic school board in Mississauga, Brampton pushes for changes to reopening plan

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Published January 13, 2022 at 4:32 pm

Catholic school board trustees in Mississauga and Brampton have fired off a pointed letter to Ontario’s education minister outlining their “grave concern, disappointment and frustration” with the Ontario government’s school reopening plan.

As students and teachers in Mississauga and across Ontario prepare to return to in-class learning on Monday amid still-surging cases of COVID-19, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board trustees say the provincial government’s safety measures are seriously lacking.

Specifically, trustees note in the letter signed by Board Chair Sharon Hobin, they’re concerned “with the discontinuation of COVID-19 reporting and dismissal of students and staff when a positive case has been identified in the class or cohort, and the total lack of consultation prior to implementing this change.”

Additionally, the letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce notes that “this is a concern that all trustees are hearing daily from our parents/guardians who are angry, frustrated and more apprehensive than ever to send their children to school.”

Trustees say in the letter that parents/guardians depend on the reporting of COVID-19 positive cases “to inform their decisions on whether to send their children to school on any given day.”

As such, the school board is pushing the provincial government to keep the previous reporting system in place.

Under the Province’s return-to-school measures, while daily student absence counts for schools/school boards will be posted online starting Jan. 24, families will only be notified by local public health units when their school reaches 30 per cent absenteeism.

And that threshold includes all reasons for students being off school, not just due to the new, highly contagious Omicron variant.

The Catholic trustees charge in their letter that the new system lacks the transparency “of the system that has worked well and maintained public confidence throughout the pandemic.”

They say it relies on absences being only “a possible indicator of COVID cases among students and staff.”

In pressing the education minister to reinstate the previous reporting system, trustees say doing so “would go a long way toward regaining the trust of the community.”

The letter also takes the provincial government to task on what trustees view as inequitable access to test kits, the type of protective masks being supplied to students, inadequate funding for ventilation and air quality improvements, and a lack of funding for smaller class sizes.

Yesterday, the Ontario government announced several safety measures to support the safe return to the classroom for students, teachers and other school staff.

Among the initiatives, the Province is providing teachers in Mississauga and across the province with some 9.1 million N95 masks and students with four million three-ply face coverings in efforts to help reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

School board trustees want better quality masks provided to students.

“We request that the Province provide medical grade masks or child-size N95 masks for all students,” the letter reads.

Provincial government officials say the N95 masks aren’t currently available in children’s size.

The letter from trustees concludes:

“The mental health and well-being of staff and students has been and continues to be a significant challenge as we continue to navigate the pandemic. Ensuring measures are in place to support a safe return to in-person learning mitigates the apprehension and anxiety resulting from the recent change to practice.”

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