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Teachers' union calls on province to consult on COVID-19 safety measures before schools reopen

With just two months before the new academic year begins, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) says it wants to see a concrete plan from the province for reopening schools well before late August.

Teens eligible to book 2nd dose starting Monday, July 5

Students Lucas Provias, 16 and Vanessa Trotman, 15, take part in a return-to-school demonstration at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts in September 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

With just two months before the new academic year begins, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) says it wants to see a concrete plan from the province for reopening schools well before late August.

Teens in Ontario will be eligible to book appointments for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday at 8 a.m. The expansion in eligibility means more secondary school students will be fully vaccinated this summer before going back to school in September.

Karen Littlewood, president of OSSTF, said she applauds the Ontario government's "reopening metrics," saying they're "really helpful" and provide "a lot of safety and reassurance." But more is needed because the September semester is approaching, she says.

Among other things, the union is calling for improved ventilation and air filtration in school buildings, a possible reduction of class sizes and continued masking if necessary to ensure the federation's 60,000 members, students returning to school and their parents feel reassured that the schools are safe. The union represents 20,000 teachers.

"We need to know this information well before the last week of August," Littlewood said. "To have consultations with the government about this would be incredible. We really haven't been consulted along the way and it would be helpful if we could have a say."

OSSTF president Karen Littlewood applauds the Ford government's reopening metrics, but wants to see more consultation between the province and the federation before school opens in September. (CBC)

Teens received 2nd doses at Peel youth-focused clinic

Peel Region held a youth-focused clinic at Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga on Saturday. Many teens received their second dose shots, including Hamza Salama, 13, and his older brother.

"I'm excited to see my friends, playing soccer again, and doing a lot of stuff with my family and going back to Egypt," Salama said.

It's a step closer to normalcy for thousands of students across the province.

Paul Sharma, Peel Region's mass vaccination program's co-lead, said he is hopeful for a safe return to school.

"Being vaccinated is the one tool that will actually keep them well to prevent the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted, but also for them to go back in person and hang out with their friends and their peers for that mental and social well-being," he said.

The Ontario education ministry said it's spending $1.6 billion to get students back to full-time in-person learning.

"With all students 12+ and education workers prioritized for double vaccination prior to September, this will enable more flexibility and allow for a more normal in-class learning experience," Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email on Saturday.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a $1.6 billion investment earlier this year to get students back to school safely in September. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"We strongly encourage all who are eligible, including education and child care workers, to roll up their sleeves to get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect our schools and help end this pandemic," Clark added.

Littlewood is hopeful after seeing an uptick in 12 to 17 year-olds getting their shots and she wants an increase in teen vaccinations across the province to ensure all of Ontario's schools are safe environments.

She said while "face to face" is the best way to deliver education, schools, public health units, and the province will have to make sure "every precaution is in place."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ali Raza is a journalist at CBC News Toronto and CBC Radio. Born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, Ali has worked in community newsrooms across the Greater Toronto Area covering politics, crime, breaking news, and more. Have a news tip? Send it over to ali.raza@cbc.ca

with files from Dalia Ashry

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