The longest March break in recent memory is drawing to a close, as the province is gearing up to have students return to classrooms in the fall.
While many parents are excited at the prospect of having their kids out of the house, many more are concerned about what a return to classrooms could mean for the spread of COVID-19.
A recent petition put forward by an elementary school teacher from Toronto is urging the government to reconsider their plan for the fall.
Kelly Iggers believes the government’s plan for students to return to classrooms fails to adhere to expert advice, and puts the entire province at risk.
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“There is evidence that it is possible to go back to school successfully, there were a number of countries and regions that did it in the spring. The thing these places all had in common was they went back with smaller class sizes,” Iggers says in an interview with Insauga.com.
“A contrasting example is Israel, which reopened schools with full-size classes—they have class sizes that are very similar to ours in Ontario, and they returned to class when their daily case count was very similar to ours currently. Within several weeks, they saw the number of daily cases rise all the way to 1,500,” she adds.
According to Iggers, this is a clear indication class sizes need to be reduced in the fall in order to help prevent a second wave of the virus.
“To return with full-size classes is completely irresponsible. We can see that just by looking at what happened with Israel, and the chairperson of the group that advised Israel on this decision has since said it was a failure and is urging other countries not to make the same mistake,” she says.
In a news release announcing the province’s new plan, Ford said the government has been communicating with experts.
“That’s why we’ve worked with our public health experts, Ontario Health and the medical experts at SickKids to develop a plan that ensures students can return to the classroom five days a week in a way that protects the health and safety of our children, teachers, and school staff,” he said.
However, Iggers disputes this.
“The most recent SickKids report regarding how to safely reopen schools stresses that in order to safely return to school, class sizes must be reduced,” Iggers said. “The President and CEO of SickKids has also said he can’t support a plan that doesn’t allow for physical distancing.”
Iggers strongly believes the province’s plan will not allow for physical distancing.
“With 30 students in a classroom, it’s difficult enough just to cram 30 desks into a room, let alone in a way that allows for physical distancing,” she says.
Iggers believes the new plan is unfair to Ontarians, who have worked extremely hard over the last five months to flatten the curve and allow for life to begin returning to some semblance of normalcy.
“This plan really jeopardizes the months of effort by Ontarians and the relative success we have had and are having,” she says.
Additionally, Iggers’ concerns aren’t just as a teacher—she’s also a parent of a child set to start kindergarten in the fall.
Further, Iggers said she has received support for the petition by education workers, parents, grandparents, and also by community members who are none of these things.
“So many people who aren’t parents or grandparents have reached out to show their support for this petition and recognized that this plan puts Ontario communities at risk,” she says.
Part of the reason for this, she emphasizes, is that students aren’t isolated from the rest of their community—their family members make up our transportation workers, health care workers, retail workers, and frontline workers.
“If we’re not minimizing the risk of transmission at schools, we’re risking community transmissions as well,” she says.
Even though she’s not in favour of the province’s proposed plan, Iggers doesn’t believe online learning is the way to go, either.
“I’m pushing for a full return to school for all students that follows the evidence and expert advice,” she says.
“I’m definitely not an advocate for online learning in place of in-person learning. I’m also not advocating for the hybrid plan the government has suggested, which would have groups of 15 alternate and attend school half the time,” she continues. “I’m insisting that we need a plan that reduces class sizes to a number based on the evidence and advice of experts—which is 15—so that students can return to school safely and successfully full time, and won’t put our communities at risk.”
This is what Iggers hopes to accomplish through the petition, which, at the time of writing, has more than 220,000 signatures.
“The goal here, and I think it’s a goal that is shared by Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, is to get students back to school safely so we can meet their academic, social, emotional, and mental, needs and development, which will also allow for our economy to get back on track,” she says.
Moreover, Iggers believes this plan presents an equity issue.
“This plan doesn’t appropriately serve or meet the needs of most Ontarians,” she says. “Families that have the means to do so can make the choice to opt out—they may be able to turn to private school options or put resources into hiring a private teacher for their own child or their neighbourhood pod. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Ontarians don’t have this choice practically speaking, because they don’t have the means to choose any other option.”
If the Province refuses to reduce class sizes when school resumes in the fall, Iggers believes it will put communities across the province at risk, which could lead to a spike in confirmed cases and facilitate a second wave of the virus.