TORONTO - The blame game is on. This week marks the last full week of school for thousands of elementary and secondary students across the province. Covid-related school closures have lasted longer in Ontario than any other province or territory across the nation.
Government leaders have insisted that schools are safe and that students should be in class as much as possible. Yet they have not authorized a return to school, even as the province’s top medical doctor has repeatedly said that “schools should be the last to close and the first to open”. As of June 15, schools have remained closed to in-person learning for a total of 25 weeks.
That means, for a second year in a row, thousands of students “graduating” from elementary or secondary levels, will do so in a virtual format. This is contrary to messaging from the provincial government earlier this month, “allowing” schools to host in-person outdoor graduations and end-of-school year events.
Minister Lecce sent a message to the Toronto Catholic Elementary Teachers’ Union (TECT), essentially asking them to suspend part of their “job action” and allow its members to participate in such events. TECT President Julie Altomare-DiNunzio responded in a statement calling instead on “Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s [to] focus …on developing a safe back-to-school plan, not interfering with local bargaining”.
The message continues laying the blame squarely on Minister Lecce calling his previous plan for school operations “unsafe and ill-conceived”, adding, “this government did not invest the funds and resources necessary to keep our students and teachers safe”. That is why schools remain closed.
The Union argues that now is not the time for its members “to put their heath and the safety and that of their students, colleagues, and families at risk to [implement] the Ford government’s poorly thought-out, last minute year-end activities”
That means the 61,000 Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) elementary students will have no official in-person send off. Union members are forbidden to organize or take part in these types of events when the Union is on “work to rule”.
The statement from Minster Lecce had called on the local OECTA union to “reverse this position” and to “put students first after this incredibly difficult year”. He also stressed the importance of these celebrations as a “benefit for student mental health and achievement”. He did not provide supporting data.
In his message, the Minister said: “the union is denying these kids the send-off they deserve”. Claiming to speak on behalf of TCDSB elementary students and families – again without data back-up - a supportive TCDSB Chair Joseph Martino urged “TECT to reconsider the impact these actions will have on our students”.
Not to be outdone, TECT President Julie Altomare-DiNunzio maintains that “Catholic teachers continue to go above and beyond for their students and families each and every day”. No data to substantiate the affirmation.
She further emphasized that the government’s priority should be a safe and healthy return to in-person learning for students and staff this coming September.