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‘They’re going back’: Plan to get kids into classrooms this fall is coming soon, says Ford
July 27, 2021

Premier Doug Ford says his government’s “comprehensive” plan to get students back to school, learning in person full time, will soon be released.

Ford said Monday that Education Minister Stephen Lecce is working with the province’s chief medical officer of health “to come up with a strong plan. And it’s going to be (released) very, very shortly.”

Speaking to reporters after an unrelated health-care announcement in Ottawa, Ford also said “we’re going to make sure the kids are going back to school in September. They’re going to be in class. I want to repeat that. They’re going back. Even if I have to open up a school bus and drive them myself, the kids are going to be going back to school. And it’s going to be a great, comprehensive plan.”

Lecce had said the province’s plan would be made public in July, though it is unclear if that is still the case.

Last week, pediatric experts at Sick Kids and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario issued their back to school recommendations, saying masking, physical distancing and cohorting are not necessary in low-COVID areas.

Lecce has said he would like a full return, including extracurricular activities.

Ontario students missed more in-person learning than those in any other provinces -- 26 weeks since March 2020.

Also on Monday, Ford repeatedly said he does not support mandatory vaccinations or vaccine passports, but did urge people to get their shots.

He said Lecce will be talking to teacher unions about the importance of their members being vaccinated.

“I’m just hoping the vast majority, hopefully 100 per cent of all the teachers are going to get vaccinated,” Ford said.

“Please get vaccinated and we’ll be working with the teachers unions on that.”

Barb Dobrowolski, the new president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said the union is “strongly” encouraging educators to be vaccinated.

She said Catholic teachers have long asked the province to consult with them, and “while we welcome the premier’s desire to work with us, it is unfortunate that it has taken the better part of 18 months to get to this point.”

New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic, said back-to-school plans should have been released months ago and she worries “about the chaos (the government) is going to cause again” at this late date.

“I want to see an aggressive plan to meet many of the calls, particularly around increased ventilation requirements,” she said, adding there also needs to be an “aggressive, proactive strategy” to ensure all eligible students and educators are vaccinated.

“We’d also want to see the government dealing with some curriculum issues” given students have fallen behind because of online learning during the pandemic, “and we want to see the additional supports in the classrooms -- we still want to see smaller class sizes, (for cohorting) and also because kids are going to need much more support this year.”

Karen Littlewood, new president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, noted that some students on modified school calendars will be starting classes in less than two weeks, and “for the rest of the students, Labour Day is just over a month away. Parents and educators need to know what a safe return is going to look like.”