With case numbers and ICU admissions continuing to rise, it is important to take all necessary steps to slow the spread of the virus. The government’s announcement earlier this afternoon that schools across Ontario will be shifting to remote learning for a period following the holidays is unfortunate, yet understandable.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, school boards across the province were required to reimagine the way they operate, and to address new challenges as well as existing ones that were exacerbated by the pandemic. It is important to note that according to public health experts, schools have not been a significant source of transmission. Through the hard work of school-based and school board staff, our school boards have been preparing for the possibility of moving to virtual learning on short notice, at any time, since the summer.
The health and safety of our students, staff, and their families is always our first concern, however we cannot ignore the impacts of removing that critical face-to-face contact for students and their teachers for as many as five weeks for students across Ontario. Teacher engagement and the social benefits of attending school are critical for many students and, as we saw in spring 2020, some will likely see negative impacts on their mental health and learning progress. It is imperative that the unique learning requirements of students with special education needs also be addressed during the remote learning period.
We continue to emphasize the need for an ongoing conversation between school boards and the Ministry of Education to ensure we are able to address the many unexpected challenges associated with returning to in-person education during a pandemic, while also operating a parallel online system. The Ministry of Education has responded positively to many of the concerns we have raised, but our work continues.
As we look to 2021, with the imminent arrival of vaccines in our province, there is a light at the end of this months-long tunnel. The future will be brighter, and the critical importance of our world-class public education system has never been more evident. Whether it is on the frontlines, in medical research, food production, and so many other sectors, how we live and work together in a positive and productive way is nurtured in our schools. Our work never ends, but we have much to be proud of.
– Cathy Abraham, OPSBA President