Canada

‘I’m terrified’: Some Ontario educators still working in-person fear for their safety

TORONTO —
Standing in front of the school where she teaches, Stephanie Kuchma is fearful of coming to work on Tuesday.

“With the numbers going so high, and the state of everything, I’m terrified,” she says. 

Kuchma is an educational assistant for special needs students at Bruce Trail Elementary in Milton, Ont.

The vast majority of the school is closed during the third wave of COVID-19. 

When they return from spring break tomorrow, Kuchma is expected to teach students age 5 to 8 years old in person. 

The students do not wear masks. 

“I’m just at a loss with the disconnect. If it’s not safe for one, it’s shouldn’t be safe for all,” she says.

Colleague Shelly Noel says she feels like they have been forgotten, “I worry about my health, and my colleagues health as well as my students health and safety going forward,” she says. 

Kuchma says they have asked Halton Public health and the Ministry of Education why they are set apart, and now they are considering a work refusal. 

“I love my students, I absolutely love my job, I would do anything for them. but we’re talking about people’s lives and that’s where I had to draw the line,” she says. 

Elementary Teachers Federation President Sam Hammond says that schools should be closed until teachers are vaccinated.

“They should be closing schools completely, moving to virtual online, and ensuring that every educator are getting a vaccine,” he says. 

When the Ford government announced the closing of schools indefinitely, educators were expecting to be vaccinated over last weeks spring break. 

That did not happen. 

“We don’t know why this government is not shutting down schools completely until all education workers can get vaccinated and to allow for that 2 week period, that 2 to 3 week period for that vaccine to set in,” Hammond says.

Both Kuchma and Noel won’t get a vaccination until late April 27th and May 1st respectively. 

In a statement the ministry of education said, “A key recommendation of experts in the special education community was to ensure the most vulnerable kids who cannot participate in remote learning, can continue to benefit from routine and consistency in-class, coupled with the continuation of strong health and safety measures. We have followed that advice, supported by the Chief Medical Officer of Heath, to ensure a small number of the most exceptional children can receive the care they desperately need.”

Kuchma says that is far from true, “Our students are more than capable of learning online. It might not be an ideal situation, but I don’t think it’s an ideal situation for any student. We are in the middle of pandemic.” 

The just hope something changes soon. 


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