TORONTO – Ontario’s ombudsman must review the government’s back-to-school plan to ensure it’s living up to vital safety standards, the province’s Official Opposition said in a formal request for the watchdog to investigate the reopening strategy.
The New Democrats’ education critic, Marit Stiles, wrote in the letter released Wednesday that she wants the ombudsman to determine if measures are in place to meet standards recommended by experts.
Stiles notes in the letter to Paul Dube that the ombudsman’s purview includes school boards, and argues an urgent investigation is required to address the “confusion or anxiety” felt by many.
“(Parents) need positive reassurance that every possible step necessary for a safe, healthy re-opening of schools will happen,”
Stiles said in the letter. “Teachers need security that their own health, not to mention that of their students, will not be put at undue risk by going back to physical classrooms.”
Dube’s office could not immediately provide comment on the NDP’s request.
With just days to go before classes start, the Ford government has faced increasing pressure over its COVID-19 pandemic back-to-school plan.
School boards, teachers’ unions and some parents have called on the government to mandate smaller class sizes to ensure physical distancing is possible in the classroom and provide funding to make it happen.
The province’s strategy will see students in kindergarten through Grade 8 return to school without any reduction in class sizes, though students will spend the day in a single cohort to limit contact with other children.
Many high schoolers will also be in class full-time, though secondary students at 24 boards across the province will do half of their classes online in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Premier Doug Ford has defended his plan repeatedly in recent weeks, calling it the best in the country, and something that was created in consultation with experts.
Ford has also regularly criticized the province’s teachers’
unions, who he claims are not working with the government on the back-to-school plan.
“I’m always going to listen to the doctors,” he said last month. “I’m not going to listen to the head of the unions that are playing politics.”
The unions have said the government has not consulted them on the development of their school reopening strategy.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 133 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths from the novel coronavirus on Wednesday.
There were also 137 cases newly marked as resolved.
The total number of cases now stands at 42,554, which includes 2,812 deaths and 38,506 cases marked as resolved.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 29 of the province’s 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer new cases, and 21 are reporting none.
The province was able to complete 24,004 tests over the previous day.
© 2020 The Canadian Press