Sudbury

Sudbury-area teachers' unions fear staff shortages, safety issues as in-person classes set to resume

The head of the union representing English public elementary school teachers in the Sudbury district said more can be done to keep educators and students safe when in-person classes resume next week.

Ontario students to return to in-class learning on Jan.17 after 2-week delay

Students at Ontario schools are set to return to in-person learning Monday. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the union representing English public elementary school teachers in the Sudbury district said more can be done to keep educators and students safe when in-person classes resume next week.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's office announced Monday the planned reopening of schools. Education Minister Stephen Lecce and the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, are scheduled to release more details later Wednesday.

When the province announced the the two-week shutdown of in-person learning, it said it couldn't ensure schools would be properly staffed.

Liana Holm, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario Rainbow Teacher Local president, said there aren't enough occasional teachers in the area to cover when teachers are sick or need to self-isolate.

"I see shortages," Holm said. "I do see combining of classes, which as a parent is also very worrisome for me because you're combining kids that my own children are not with on a daily basis. You're taking them from a classroom that could have potentially had an outbreak."

Late last year, the province announced it will stop reporting COVID-19 cases in schools and child-care settings.

Holm said N95 masks have arrived for teachers, and more HEPA filters have been ordered and should arrive by the end of the month.

"But because we deal with so many people in a room, the anxiety is very high," she said.

"Some people — you get a mixed bag— some people are saying, 'You know what? Just go back and what will be will be.' Other people are very nervous."

Eric Laberge, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation president for District 3, which represents staff in Rainbow Board schools, said he feels the government is "forging ahead."

"We have said since Day 1 that in-person learning in a physical classroom is the best way for kids to learn and interact, but it has to be done safely," he said.

"We have great concerns that keeping schools open after Jan. 17 will be challenging since new isolation guidelines require all to isolate along with the entire household for at least five days in most instances."

Eric Laberge, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 3, says, 'The Ministry of Education imposes some pretty unrealistic restrictions and that makes it very difficult for the boards to manage, what I would call, a bullet-proof-plan.' (Submitted by Eric Laberge)

He said that, along with the highly transmissible Omicron variant, other circulating viruses and restrictions in testing will "likely result in staff shortages."

In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, Lecce said officials are "doing as much as we can to improve ventilation, provide high-quality PPE and expand access to vaccinations" before kids go back to class.

He cited examples like providing N95 masks for teachers and three-ply masks for students.

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