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French disappointed in province’s response to return to school

MP Jennifer French

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French is concerned about the reopening of schools.

As a former teacher, French says she has had her fair share of fresh starts in September, but she doesn’t believe any educator, no matter how prepared or enthusiastic, could have been prepared for this school year.

“I’ve heard from educators, but I’ve heard as much or more from parents leading up to the return to school,” she says. “People have so many questions, and of course it differed from board to board, or grade to grade.”

The guidelines and the expectations laid out by the province were a “moving target,” says French.

“People were getting information up to the last minute – even the night before the morning they would head back. It has been quite chaotic from an organizational standpoint,” she says.

However, from a safety standpoint, French says she’s alarmed.

She says there are questions at all levels that went unanswered and continue to be a challenge.

“From that safety standpoint, recognizing that there will be an absolute inability to meet the recommendations laid out by health professionals and experts that, without sinks or running water, that the expectations for children to wash their hands can’t be met,” she says.

She adds the recommendations around airflow and ventilation also can’t be met due to outdated systems and windows that can’t open.

However, she believes what everybody is really focusing on is the fact The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) recommended there be no more than 15 children in a class.

Leader of the official opposition and NDP leader Andrea Horwath tabled a motion that was shot down by the Conservative government to cap class sizes at 15 recently, and French says it has been very upsetting to families.

“We have been hearing from them and seeing their response on various platforms of very distressed or distraught parents and educators,” she says.

French says she is frustrated on behalf of parents and those in the education sector.

“It should never have been so challenging to get clear guidelines and information,” she says. “We are talking about children and their learning and the safety of students, staff, and ultimately, families at home.”

She says any decision the government makes should be well thought out, and supported by medical input.

“So when we hear from health experts that classes need to be smaller, and students need to be spaced safely, and whatever else they recommend, I get very angry when we have to fight the government for those things,” she says.

Ultimately, students want to do well at school, says French, and what’s disappointing to her now is that many students and their families are nervous about the pandemic, as well as their studies.