Keep Hamilton schools closed, says support staff’s union

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Published June 9, 2021 at 10:25 pm

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The union local whose Hamilton members tend to students with “pervasive needs” is asking Ontario’s minister of education to deny the public school board’s request to let schools reopen for one week in June.

On Wednesday (June 9), the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) Local 527 wrote to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, while CC’ing the heads of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB). Their letter pertains to a request by the HWDSB to allow for a return to in-person learning from June 21 to 27, which is the final week of the academic year. The HWDSB adopted a resolution to ask a week or so of in-person learning in order to, as chair Dawn Danko said, “focus on the relationships and that socialization that students have missed out on.”

COPE represents the education workers who work with students who have pervasive needs, such as education assistants, communication disorder assistants, and child and youth care practitioners. The letter to Lecce contends that going back to in-person learning would be unfair to HWDSB’s “most vulnerable students.”

“Many of the members of COPE 527 have continued working in person supporting students with Pervasive needs throughout the school closures,” says the letter, which is co-signed by Susan Lucek and Linda Kowalski, the local’s present and vice-president.

“Many of these students have been attending designated, and alternate, school locations. A sudden return to in person learning will directly, and negatively, impact this most vulnerable group of students, who often struggle with transitions, and who thrive on routines, as well as the staff who have been providing ongoing (one-to-one) support.”

Schools have been largely closed to in-person learning since early April, when the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic surged in Ontario The Progressive Conservative government has also ruled out a return to in-person learning.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Lecce was asked three times about the HWDSB request to reopen elementary schools.

He did not answer directly, steering the response to a call for schools to hold some form of in-person graduation for students in Grade 8 or Grade 12.

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