Ontario’s plan to reopen schools in the fall is not being celebrated by Near North District School Board (NNDSB) elementary teachers.

President of the Near North Elementary Teachers Union, Rob Hammond, says he knew what the government was going to do, but isn’t happy with how they’re doing it.

“I knew that they were going to do a full open. The problem is, they’re not going to invest the money that’s needed to open schools safely,” he said.

Ontario’s plan, announced by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Thursday, says that over $300 million will be spent to ensure the safety of staff and students. This includes extra money for custodial services, cleaning supplies, hiring more occasional staff, and other safety measures to follow public health guidelines. Hammond doesn’t think that the government is spending enough money.

“[$300 million] is not going to cover what we need for custodians to clean the schools, the cleaning supplies that we need and the protective gear for our teachers and students,” he said, adding that $700 million would be the ideal amount for a proper reopening.

Hammond also says that the Ontario government’s approach to the wellbeing of students may have some pitfalls.

“We know that children learn best when they’re in front of a teacher and live learning. The problem is that they’re using statistics that children are affected between three and seven percent. That’s between 260 and 700 students in our system that could potentially end up with COVID-19,” Hammond explained.

He adds that safety concerns are also grave for teachers.

“We have teachers with compromised immune systems and other health problems and they’re very concerned about what the risks are because just to be given a mask and a visor and say ‘have at it’ – that’s putting them at risk,” he said, adding that in the cases of elementary school French teachers, they may see hundreds of students a day while cycling through classes.

At the request of the provincial government, school boards across Ontario have been drawing up plans for three possible reopening scenarios: full return; full virtual learning; or a hybrid model between the two. Hammond says that it’s important to get kids back in the classroom, but more should have been done to ensure safety.

“I think that we should have gone with a full reopening but we should have gone with smaller class sizes. The school buildings themselves could not accommodate that but we do have joint use agreements with other community facilities. Had we been able to use some of those, for example, community centres and hockey arenas, that we could have cut down the number of kids who are in class and still offer quality education,” he explained.

Hammond knows that schools are not the cleanest places at the best of times, and says that boards will struggle to keep up with the virus.

“Schools are like Petri dishes. We can’t keep influenza, diarrhea, and head lice out of our schools, so we’re going to have an issue with COVID-19,” he finished.