With students set to return to school on September 8, the Catholic Secondary Teachers Union is still working towards swaying the provincial government to alter its return to school plan.
Rick Belisle, President of the Nipissing District Catholic Teachers Union, has a stark metaphor for the current provincial mandates.
“It looks like we’re back in the days where we put a canary in a cage and put it in the mine shaft and if it comes up alive then great, go in. It seems like we’re going back to that era and I think we’re so advanced that we can find better ways to do this,” said Belisle.
On Monday, Premier Doug Ford said that teachers’ unions need to be more flexible as the return to school approaches. Belisle says that his organization and others have been just that.
“The Catholic Trustees Association has been meeting and willing to meet and develop some really good ideas to help safely re-enter schools and the government really didn’t want to meet or take any recommendations,” he explained.
The province recently announced an additional $50-million in funding for revamping of airway systems in schools, while also allowing school boards to dip into reserve funds for up to 2 percent of its operating costs – a move the province says provides nearly $500 million in additional funds. Belisle is not on board with that move.
“They’re downloading stuff to the boards and saying that they’ve provided funding, but the funding is to actually tap into your reserves. I think it’s a little hypocritical of them to say for us to be flexible,” he said. “When they’re rejecting plan after plan after plan, people don’t really know what they want. Then they blame the unions, they blame the boards and I don’t think that’s fair.”
The Nipissing Parry Sound Catholic District School Board unveiled its return to class plan, which involves high schools being broken up into four quadmesters to limit the amount of student/teacher contact. Belisle says that even with the increased safety measures on the part of the board, it still may not be enough.
“The logistics of having 800 to 900 people or more in a building – at the best of times, you have to make sure the distancing and all those elements take place. Just simple things like: are there enough washrooms for the kids? How is everything being sanitized?” he questions.
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli remains firm behind his government’s plan to reopen the schools.
“This is the plan that they have put forward that is a safe plan to bring our students and our teachers back to school,” Fedeli said while questioned during a previous press conference. “We want to make absolutely certain that students, their families, the teachers and all the staff are all safe when they return.”
Belisle says that the next couple of weeks leading up to the school year will be a crucial time for parents.
“I think it’s important for the parents to use their voice and let the politicians know that this isn’t acceptable as a plan. We voted the government in to govern for all people, not just some people. It’s important to use your voice and I don’t know if parents realize the power they have.” He finished.