COVID-19 safety, labour deal priorities for Ontario’s education minister ahead of return to class

COVID-19 safety, labour deal priorities for Ontario’s education minister ahead of return to class

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COVID-19 safety, labour deal priorities for Ontario’s education minister ahead of return to class's Profile


With Ontario’s public schools set to reopen classrooms in just under two weeks, the province’s education minister is hoping to eliminate the disruptions of an ongoing pandemic and labour strife to create “the stability” kids deserve.

Stephen Lecce told Global News the mission for September is getting kids back to “normal, stable and enjoyable” schools by providing not only a safe in-class environment but also one that offers plenty of extracurricular events to allow “children to be kids.”


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“I want them to embrace learning both inside and outside the classroom, which is why I’m putting such an emphasis on extracurriculars,” Lecce told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today.

“Sports means a great deal. It’s not just physical health, it’s mental health. Arts, drama, music — all of this matters.”

Ontario offering four-year deal to union representing teachers

Resolutions in recent bargaining with Ontario’s five education sector unions, amid the looming expiration of collective agreements, is another priority on the ministry’s list for bringing back the normalcy Lecce is seeking.

A recently proposed four-year deal from the province offers a two per cent raise to education workers making less than $40,000 a year and a 1.25 per cent raise to everyone else in the first phase of the deal.

Read more:

Ontario’s offer to education workers insufficient to keep with living costs, union says

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“We brought forth a plan that I think is reasonable to 8.24 per cent over the four years,” Lecce told Hamilton Today.

“It includes protection. We are maintaining the most generous pension benefits, sick leave, and long-term disability in the nation.”

The president of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) weighed in on those negotiations with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) last week, suggesting the offer is “unfair” since it doesn’t keep up with the cost of living.

“We’re having difficulty retaining workers, hiring workers. You’re not going to get them this way,” the OSSTF’s Karen Littlewood said.

CUPE, representing about 55,000 education workers, has asked the province for annual raises of 11.7 per cent — or $3.25 per hour — arguing workers’ wages have been restricted over the last decade and inflation has been high.

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The union is also asking for five additional paid days before the start of the school year, 30 minutes of paid preparation time each day, and increasing overtime pay from a multiplier of 1.5 to two.

Lecce acknowledges there are “inflationary pressures” this year, but anticipates that won’t be sustainable and likely will drop in 2023.

“I think most recognize inflation will come down sharply over the coming year, certainly over the next four years of a contract,” Lecce said.

Public schools pause COVID-19 vaccination requirement, masking optional

In an effort to make the return to school “stable and more enjoyable,” Lecce welcomed news on Thursday from the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table (SAT), whose recommendations coincided with the ministry’s planned “permanent measures” to limit the spread of the coronavirus in classrooms.

At the top of the list was maintaining adequate indoor air quality, which every school in the province has seen improvements with in the past year, according to the minister.

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“Literally every school in the province has been assessed and optimized, 100 per cent of them,” said Lecce.

“We have 100,000 HEPA units, more in Ontario than every province combined.”

Read more:

Ontario COVID advisory table recommends ‘permanent measures’ for classrooms ahead of school year

Proper hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and disinfection, keeping students and staff home when sick and up-to-date immunizations are some of the other initiatives schools are expected to be proactive with in the fall.

The SAT is recommending physical distancing, cohorting, and active screening and testing as temporary measures.

Masking will be optional and it will be up to parents to make that decision based on their risk tolerance.

“We’re creating an environment where we’re making it a safe space regardless of what you choose, no judgment,” Lecce said.

The ministry has never imposed a mandate for staff or students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 over the past two years, and Lecce says it “never will.”

“Of course, we’re encouraging immunization for those eligible based on the discussions with your doctors, but it’s not a requirement,” said Lecce.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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