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LETTER: Teachers' union outlines its back-to-school concerns around COVID

'The lack of true consultation with education workers and an offensively inadequate budget will result in increased cases of COVID-19 within the schools,' says union
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BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at news@barrietoday.com. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following, which has been provided to BarrieToday, is an open letter from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) District 17 Simcoe Teachers’ Bargaining Unit addressed to families of Simcoe County students, OSSTF members and fellow educators, local school board officials, and provincial politicians. 
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To the Families of Simcoe County Students

The representatives for the secondary teachers of Simcoe County (District School Board) want to thank you for your efforts in advocating for the safe return to school for all students. We know many of you were faced with a difficult decision on whether your child would return to school in-person or remotely. No matter the outcome of that decision, we will continue to support your child.

For those who chose to return to schools this fall, thank you for trusting us to keep your kids safe when they arrive into our classrooms. In normal school years, we would be focused primarily on helping kids achieve the next level academically and providing opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. This year we will continue to support your child academically while at the same time keeping the safety and well-being of all of our students at the core of every goal we set.

Our promise to you is that we will always put our students first. Educators in Simcoe County will always be “Here for Students.”

To OSSTF Members and Fellow Educators

This year will be the most unique and challenging of your career. Education workers have been known for going above and beyond for their students, despite not being provided with sufficient resources. Our teachers are currently the most diverse, highly skilled, and qualified group of teachers we have ever had in Simcoe County. Because of all that you do for your students, the public values the work that you do and entrusts you to give your students the skills they need to become the leaders we need.

As we move through September, it is important for you to share your concerns over safety or lack of supplies with your administration. Other school boards have found solutions to reduce the number of COVID-19-related safety concerns in their schools. Education workers are creative and resourceful and we need to work together to come up with solutions. Once SCDSB admin become aware of the scope of the problems, we can work together to correct them. As we have done before, we must continue to raise our voices to advocate for our students. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we will make a difference.

To the Board of Trustees and Director (Steve) Blake

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the additional effort and strain the upcoming school year has forced on trustees, board and school administrators, and all board staff. We know that none of you have been idle.

However, we want to be clear about our concerns. It will be impossible for us to maintain even one metre of distance between students in the majority of our classrooms, never mind the recommended two metres, and our schools are already struggling with insufficient supplies to ensure recommended cleaning.

OSSTF District 17 Simcoe Teachers’ Bargaining Unit

You may have been dealt a very difficult hand with an ever-changing plan, but the stakes are too high to do only what is minimally required according to the ministry.

To the secondary teachers in Simcoe County, the students here are the best in Ontario and we wholeheartedly believe that they deserve a plan that achieves more than “meets ministry requirements." Other boards have gone above and beyond and hired extra custodians to clean, extra teachers to reduce class sizes, created outdoor learning spaces, or provided extra resources such as plexiglass shields for common workbenches. It is time for Simcoe County DSB to also go above and beyond.

We fully admit that the Minister of Education’s plans are insufficient, but it is up to the board to address these deficiencies. The SCDSB has a $92 million accumulated surplus, of which over $12 million are unappropriated funds. Those funds should be reallocated to support our schools. One immediate action the board should take is to increase every school’s basic budget in order to allow for schools to purchase additional supplies to limit the amount of material shared between students. This small action could make a big difference to stop the spread.

To Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, and local MPPs Doug Downey, Jill Dunlop, Andrea Khanjin, Caroline Mulroney, and Jim Wilson

The government has had six months to work with education stakeholders to develop a workable plan. Instead of consulting with them, you have forced school boards to accept a plan that was neither fully developed nor supported with enough time and funds to implement it successfully.

Not only have you failed to create a plan that safeguards the health of students or educators in Ontario, you have also failed to deliver on many of the promises you have made. Secondary students in Simcoe County are returning to classrooms without the upgraded ventilation systems that Premier Ford promised in late-August.

They are also in cohorts of up to 36 students and not the 15 as promised by Minister Lecce back in June. Students will be in classrooms without the ability to physically distance themselves and without the cleaning supplies or enhanced cleaning protocols that were promised. This did not need to happen.

The lack of true consultation with education workers and an offensively inadequate budget will result in increased cases of COVID-19 within the schools. Undoubtedly, these cases will spread across the province.

We could have worked together to find solutions, and we could have prevented what is to come.

Fortunately, there is still time to fix this. You can offer proper funding to lower class sizes, hire additional staff, provide necessary training, and purchase crucial supplies. No more deception. We need a sustainable and safe plan now. We are counting on you to put partisan politics aside and do the right thing for the students and residents of Simcoe County.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF),
District 17 Simcoe Teachers’ Bargaining Unit

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