Sudden decision to shut down in-person classes prompts mixed reaction in Windsor-Essex
Some teachers say the decision should have been made sooner
Students in Ontario won't be heading back to class after their spring break as the provincial government announced on Monday that it's shutting down in-person learning due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
This decision comes just a day after the minister of education issued a letter to parents insisting schools would stay open for in-class learning after the break.
Some parents and teachers in Windsor-Essex find the sudden shift frustrating.
"It's scary. I don't know what I'm going to do next week. I don't know if I'm going to be able to go to my job or if I'm going to get a paycheque," said Jasmine Squires, whose daughter attended junior kindergarten in person.
She said employment insurance can only go so far and it's not enough to support her and her family.
"I understand the government can only do so much, but they have to let us work and unfortunately, our kids have to be in school to do that," she said.
Another parent, whose children were also doing in-person learning, doesn't find the decision surprising.
"I expected this. Even last week, teachers sent the kids home with paper and books just in case. So, when I just saw the news, it didn't surprise me," said Cassie Rivard, adding that it's going to be tricky to find someone to look after her children.
"I work full-time. My husband works full-time. I have to figure out ways to make sure someone's home all the time," she said. "It does make it harder, but it's not impossible."
Another parent said she's happy with her decision to keep her kids at home since the beginning of the school year, despite some of the challenges she faces with it.
"It would've been easier for me to put them in school because having two kids, it's just very difficult at home," Kathie Bercien said. "Even the packages they give us, it's hard to do with two kids. It's definitely been difficult."
"I constantly see cases," she continued. "Why would I want to risk my child going to school possibly getting it. I wouldn't want that to happen."
For some teachers, the decision should have come sooner.
"It's rather unfortunate that this decision was not made last week. Educators, parents and students will be forced to pivot once again! When will this haphazard decision-making end?" said Mario Spagnulo, the local president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
"We question how much thought is being put into these decisions, and there continues to be a lack of consultation with stakeholders," he added.
"I think as soon as there were new cases in the school, and especially when the variants became prominent in Ontario, I think the school should have switched to online learning right away. And then we wouldn't be in this situation," said Fred Rotgaus, a teacher at Riverside Secondary School.
"I just think that we have to be, as a province, more proactive with this virus than reactive to the data. And the current data was anticipated. I was hearing about these case counts being predicted over a month ago. So really, we should have been in online learning then," he said.
While he feels some sense of relief knowing classes are going back to remote learning, Rotgaus said he and other teachers still feel scared about returning give many, including himself, haven't been vaccinated yet.
"I don't feel protected whatsoever. Every classroom we go into and myself, along with other teachers, have to go into different classes to supervise," he said.
"Until they guarantee that we can get vaccinated before returning to the building, I think that teachers are still a little bit on edge and a little bit afraid still that we may be forced to return to the building before we actually have a chance to receive the vaccine," he said.
Ford did not provide a timeline for when kids would head back to class, saying instead that officials will keep a constant eye on data and trends to determine when children can return to school.
Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for Windsor and Essex County, said Tuesday that the health unit was looking at the issue of whether local schools need to close, prior to the province making its decision.
"We have seen some trends in the cases increasing in the local school population, but not to a level where we were forced to close the schools last year," he said, referencing his previous order shuttering all schools throughout Windsor and Essex County in December.