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Statement in response to Minister Lecce’s confirmation that schools will resume in-person learning on January 17

1/12/2022

Throughout the pandemic, we have emphasized the importance of in-person learning to the health, development, and well-being of our students. With that said, we previously recommended a variety of measures to the government to ensure that our schools are as safe as possible for our staff and students. Those measures include:

  1. Priority access for students and all school staff to receive all of the vaccine doses for which they are eligible.
  2. Providing students and all school staff access to PCR testing in order to maintain confidence in school safety through accurate tracking, and to minimize disruptions resulting from quarantining.
  3. Providing additional PPE, including N95 masks to school staff as soon as possible, and
  4. Adding COVID-19 to the list of Designated Diseases under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA).

The government has acted on a number of these items, but some additional work is needed on others.

We are pleased to see that a number of clinics have been set up in a variety of locations across the province to provide priority vaccine access to school staff. We encourage the government and public health units to ensure that this access is provided to school staff in all parts of the province.

We are grateful for the delivery of N95 masks for staff to school boards across the province over the past week, and we request that the government ensure that school boards are provided with a sufficient supply for as long as is needed to keep our schools as safe as possible.

We understand and agree with the need to prioritize access to PCR testing for those working in healthcare and long-term care, however ask that consideration be given to increasing the province’s testing capacity to allow access for school staff and students. It is extremely important that the delivery of the Rapid Antigen Tests for staff and students happens as soon as possible. There are many in our school communities who remain concerned about our decreased ability to accurately track cases in our schools.

Finally, we encourage the government to use every tool available to them to increase vaccination rates – particularly among our 5 to 11-year-old students. School boards will work closely with Public Health Units to implement in-school vaccination clinics, and provide any other support needed to help increase vaccination rates. We are increasingly concerned about reports of significant discrepancies in youth vaccination rates on a region-by-region and neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis. We continue to recommend that the government add COVID-19 to the list of Designated Diseases under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA).

We thank all of the dedicated education workers, sector leaders, parents, and students for their dedication and resilience throughout this challenging period.

– Cathy Abraham, OPSBA President

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