Teachers’ unions allege back-to-school plan breaks provincial law


The Ontario government says it's allowing school boards to access $500 million in their own financial reserves to help achieve physical distancing in schools as they prepare to reopen.

The announcement, which comes just weeks before classes are set to resume across the province, also promises $50 million to update school ventilation systems and $18 million to hire staff to help administer online learning.

"We're taking action," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday. "One-time, temporary, targeted, timely action to ensure students are safe, and to respond to this generational challenge together."

The funding announcement came shortly after Ontario's four major teacher's unions released a letter alleging the province's back-to-school plan violates its own occupational health and safety legislation.

The letter states that the province is in the midst of a global pandemic, with no conclusive evidence on how COVID-19 infects children or the rate at which they transmit the virus.

"Absent scientific consensus on significant aspects of COVID-19's biology or epidemiology, Ontario is obliged... to follow the precautionary principle and implement all reasonable measures necessary to reduce the risk that COVID-19 poses to our members' health and safety in the workplace," the unions' letter states.

The letter alleges the provincial plan fails to provide adequate health and safety protections such as smaller class sizes, minimal measurable standards for ventilation in schools, and mandatory masking for younger children.

The unions -- the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation -- together represent more than 190,000 teachers and education workers.

The unions have asked for a meeting with the minister of labour and representatives to discuss the issue by next Friday, Aug. 21.

Asked about the unions' letter Thursday, Lecce said the plan has been endorsed by the province's top doctor.

"The ultimate decision point on safety is made by our medical leaders," he said.

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