Teacher union local in Hamilton urges for continued reporting of COVID-19 cases

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Published January 13, 2022 at 11:55 pm

A teacher union local in Hamilton is calling on the public school board to continue COVID-19 reporting.

The return-to-school plan announced this week by the Ontario PC Party government and Education Minister Stephen Lecce only requires public health units to notify families if 30 per cent of a school — including staff and students — is absent. It will also not be confirmed whether all absences are due to COVID-19. But both major Toronto school boards have announced they will continue to inform parents of children in directly affected classes when there is a positive test, which was the practice during the first half of the school of year. The Durham District School Board (DDSB) has also said it’s preparing to share COVID-19 data.

On Twitter on Thursday night, the account for Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 21 said Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board should follow Toronto’s example.

“This is leadership,” they wrote. “We believe that the @HWDSB can mirror this decision. Let’s get it done, trustees.”

In-person learning resumes on Monday (17) across the province for the first time since Dec. 17.

The HWDSB has not announced whether it would do something on its own. It did write to Lecce on Jan. 6 to “request the Ministry support a modified tracking and reporting mechanism for COVID-19 in schools, as well as an ongoing supply of PCR or Rapid Antigen Tests for school boards.”

In a message on Thursday, the HWDSB said response it receive informed them that “a focus will move from reporting COVID-19 cases to potential thresholds of student absences in schools,” presumably the 30 per cent figure.

“We know our community has mixed feelings about the return in person,” the letter to community members said. “We will do our best to honour these diverse views, as we put well-being first. We hope this update is clear and can address some concerns.”

The province’s top doctor, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore, said Wednesday the province will continue to report certain COVID-19 data, such as virus-related admissions to hospitals for children between the ages of five to 11 and 12 to 17.

But the government’s plan has drawn criticism from boards of education. The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School’s board of trustees and chair Sharon Hobin wrote a letter to Lecce, saying there was no consultation with the board. They also called for the province to provide better quality masks to students and an “adequate number” of rapid test kits to all students and staff.

Each elementary school-aged child is supposed to receive to rapid test kits. That age group has a much lower vaccine uptake than 12- to 17-year-olds. Children aged 5 to 11 were only approved in November to begin receiving a pediatric dose of the vaccine.

Ontario students have spent more time out of the classroom than their counterparts in every other jurisdiction in Canada and the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some 26 weeks of remote learning.

Out west, where schools have reopened in Alberta, recorded staff absences have hit quadruple digits in both Calgary and Edmonton’s school systems. But there have also been issues with distribution of masks and rapid test kits, which both Lecce and Moore have touted as a part of Ontario’s plan.

On Thursday, there were some 1,330 recorded staff absences in Calgary, including 815 in teaching positions, reported the Calgary Herald. Just under 70 per cent of those, or 555, were filled by substitutes. Over 20 per cent of students were absent.

Edmonton had a combined 1,100 recorded absences across its Catholic and public school divisions on Thursday. The Edmonton Journal related that the Catholic division’s own tracking tallied 142 COVID-19 cases among students and staff, which was thrice as many as just two days earlier, when there were 46 on Tuesday.

The Ontario government recently increased the number of days a retired teacher can sub annually from 50 to 95.

The OSSTF District 21 local represents 1,500 teachers and other education workers in Hamilton public high schools.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario represents elementary teachers in the public board, and teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB) are represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

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