ETFO, OECTA call for remote learning, immediate vaccination of education workers

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond. 4 February 2020. (Photo by ETFO)

Two of the unions that represent Ontario teachers are calling on the Ford government to prioritize education workers for COVID-19 vaccination.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) released statements on Monday, saying the government needs to do more to protect teachers and support staff in the province’s schools. The unions say, with a rapidly growing number of new COVID-19 cases and what ETFO calls the government’s “negligent decision to keep schools open without additional enhanced safety measures,” education workers of any age, as well as essential workers in other sectors, should be moved to the front of the line for vaccines.

If the province is not willing to do that, the unions say students in “hot spot” areas of Ontario should move to full remote learning.

“The Ford government’s shutdown announcement did nothing to assure Ontarians that it has their best interests at heart. Instead, it left many feeling abandoned, frightened, and unsure about the future,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “As medical experts have said, there is no excuse—no valid reason—to not begin vaccinating all essential workers today; this includes all education workers. Failure to do so, with so many available vaccines sitting in freezers, is negligent and dangerous.”

In addition to vaccinating education workers and all essential workers, ETFO is calling on the government to reduce class sizes to allow for two metres of physical distancing, provide funding to school boards so they can provide N95 masks to teachers and staff, fund improvements to ventilation of air filtration in schools, implement paid sick leave, ensure widespread uptake of COVID-19 testing, and provide financial help for families that need it while lockdown measures are in effect.

“Educators firmly believe that quality in-person learning, when done safely, is what is best for students. Unfortunately, due to the Ford government’s repeated refusal to make necessary investments, this is simply not possible in many areas of the province. The government, school boards and PHUs must take immediate action to ensure students and staff are safe, up to and including moving learning online, if that’s what’s deemed necessary,” Hammond said. “By downplaying the transmission of COVID-19 in schools and refusing to provide necessary funding, despite having billions of dollars in unallocated contingency funds, the Ford government continues to prove that they are incapable of managing the pandemic and keeping us all safe.”

Hammond said ETFO leaders will meet on Tuesday to discuss what steps the union might stake is the province does not prioritize education workers and other essential workers for vaccination.