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Union leader says Ontario teachers feel like 'they’re being used to create herd immunity' with return to school plan


A union representing thousands of educational workers is speaking out about a return to school plan that they say has their members “feeling like they’re being used to create herd immunity.”

Karen Littlewood, who is the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, made the comment to CP24 on Friday morning as she discussed Ontario’s plan to have students return to the classrooms on Jan. 5, two days later than initially scheduled.

Ontario officials have said that the delay will give schools time to prepare for several changes, including providing N95 masks to staff in schools and daycares and deploying an additional 3,000 HEPA filter units in classrooms.

But those moves are being accompanied by a decision to limit the eligibility for publicly-funded PCR testing to select high-risk populations.

As a result symptomatic public school students and staff will not be able to book a test at an assessment centre. They will continue to have access to take-home PCR collection kits but that resource is believed to be limited. It should also be noted that take-home PCR collection kits have not been provided to childcare centres at this point, leaving children and workers in those settings with no way to access a test.

“Our staff are feeling abandoned, they're feeling like they're being used to create the herd immunity and they're feeling really afraid right now,” Littlewood told CP24 on Friday morning. “The government needs to put the measures in place to make sure that we are safe.”

Several other provinces have opted to push back the return to school by at least a week amid concerns about the Omicron variant but Ontario has not followed suit.

Littlewood said that “she can’t help but think” the province’s approach to schools “is really a business decision as opposed to a health and safety decision.”

She said that the government should have spent the last two weeks prioritizing education workers for booster doses but instead simultaneously opened up eligibility to all adults, leaving many of her members unable to get a third shot before classes resume.

She also questioned whether the two-day delay will be enough time to provide all education workers with N95 masks.

“I’m hearing (Chief Medical Officer of Health) Dr. (Kieran) Moore say we've got great protection and vaccinations for people. But that's not necessarily the case. Could we not put some vaccination clinics in so that parents families, staff, everybody could be protected?” she asked.


The decision to reopen schools next week despite a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases has drawn criticism from some public health experts and a number of union leaders.

In a separate interview with CP24 on Friday, Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario President Karen Brown said that she has real concerns about the lack of “ongoing and on-site testing” for students and educators amid high levels of community spread.

She said that there is also a need for contact tracing in the school-setting to limit outbreaks.

But while speaking with CP24 later in the day Education Minister Stephen Lecce defended his government’s approach, which he said has put an increased focus on improved ventilation and masking.

“Schools are literally some of the safest places our community because we have distancing, cohorting, screening at the front end quality masking, ventilation improvements and access to take home PCR tests for symptomatic students and staff. It's going to make a difference and I appreciate that we all have an angst about Omicron variant because we all want this to be behind us. But by increasing our immunization efforts, by wearing quality masks and by continuing to be vigilant as a society I think we will get through the next few weeks,” he said. “They will be tough but it's worth the effort to get our kids in school, to keep them safe and to keep them learning.” Top Stories

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