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Special education classes to go ahead in person on Monday, province says

As millions of parents across the province buckle down for another few weeks, at least, of online learning, those with kids in special education classes are being told their children can go back to in-person learning on Monday.

Teachers and their unions are frustrated with return to in-person learning

In-person special education classes will continue in Ontario. (John Robertson/CBC)

As millions of parents and guardians across the province buckle down for another few weeks, at least, of online learning, those with children in special education classes are being told their kids can go back to in-person learning on Monday. 

The move has angered special education teachers and their unions, who didn't find out about the move until late last night or early this morning. They say the decision puts people at risk of COVID-19. 

"Our aim is for every child — irrespective of special learning needs, geography or socio-economic circumstance — to have a safe and positive learning experience.  We know some students with special education needs cannot be accommodated through remote learning, which is why our government mandated that we provide an in-school option for the most vulnerable students during the closure period," said Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce. 

"We believe that students with special education needs and exceptionalities deserve to have consistency and full support through this period."

As school boards mandate those teachers back into the classroom, the unions representing them are raising questions about why it is safe for some students to go back to the classroom but not others. 

"We are appalled at this decision by the Ford Government to put this group of staff and students at risk of exposure to COVID-19 while all others have been appropriately protected," officials from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (District 11) wrote in a memo to staff. 

"We are contacting the Ministry of Labour to express health and safety concerns (and) we are consulting with the local health units to ask them to intervene for the safety of all."

OSSTF District 11 represents teachers with the Thames Valley District School Board. 

In a memo to staff, the board asked all elementary and secondary school students with special education classes to contact parents to offer in-person learning as of Monday, while all other children will continue to learn remotely until at least Jan. 25. 

The direction for all in-person learning does not apply to special needs students who are in regular classrooms, the board says. Instead, it applies to those in developmental education, autism spectrum disorder, transition, accelerate, or hearing impaired classes. 

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