Virtual school plan sends ‘mixed messages’: Local ETFO

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A plan announced by the Ontario government last week requiring all school boards to have a virtual learning option for the 2022-23 school year sends “mixed messages,” a local teachers’ union president says.


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The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, representing elementary school educators in the province, said in a statement Friday the province’s plan was “irresponsible.”

Locally, Greater Essex ETFO president Mario Spagnuolo said it was a “mixed message” from the province.

“In a few weeks’ time they really want to move things back to normal in terms of mandates and restrictions, yet in the same week they’re announcing that there is going to be virtual school,” Spagnuolo said.

“The other thing this option does is take away the focus from what we should be doing, which is consulting with parents as to why they would want to choose virtual school in September, find out what those reasons are and work with the school community to address those concerns.”


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Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, stands outside ETFO offices in Tecumseh on Dec. 15, 2021.
Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, stands outside ETFO offices in Tecumseh on Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Ontario will require school boards to offer virtual learning as an option for the 2022-23 school year, education minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday, though said the priority is in-class learning. The province will also bring back standardized testing this year and committing additional funds to help address learning loss, reading intervention and mental health programs.

The union said it believes in-person learning is the best option for students, and resources should be put toward making in-person learning as safe as possible though smaller class sizes, more support for students with special needs and better ventilation in schools buildings.

“The government cannot be allowed to equate remote learning with the instruction that students receive in-person in the public education system,” said ETFO President Karen Brown. “It is the government’s responsibility to create a safe learning environment for all students in schools, but instead of making necessary adjustments, they continue to stretch education resources and put added pressure on school boards, teachers, and education workers by requiring them to provide online learning in the coming school year.”


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Englisch pointed to a pre-pandemic push by the Ford government to introduce mandatory online credits for high school students — met with broad backlash — as a reason to be concerned about current online learning plans.

Local teachers have expressed concerns about growing reading gaps and the level of support for students with special needs, Spagnuolo said, problems made worse by the pandemic.

“The best place for students to learn is inside a public school with an elementary school teacher and with their peers,” he said. “A huge component of our education is working together in a classroom with peers on cooperation, problem solving. Those things are all very difficult or nearly impossible to achieve through a computer.”

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