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LETTER: Lecce's 'lackluster response' a lesson in poor planning

Planning and a 'proactive response has been missing during a time of emergency, replaced by a reactive, posturing, and politically motivated administration,' says NDP
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OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor (dave@orilliamatters.com). This letter, related to the province's decision to return to in-person learning next week, is from Elizabeth Van Houtte, president of Simcoe North Ontario NDP.
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The decision to have students return to school on Jan. 17 has created angst for many. Parents, students, teachers, educational assistants, support staff, bus drivers, and school boards waited with bated breath for Minister Lecce’s report.

We are left wondering what has changed allowing us to re-open schools, while restaurants, bars, and gyms are closed?

We all want our kids back in school. It is good for positive mental health, socialization, and educational achievement. But we also want to know that they, and their teachers, will be safe. Minister Lecce assured us that all safety protocols and materials will be in order on Monday. From the responses seen among school boards, that process is still taking place.

The pandemic surfaced in March 2020. There has been plenty of time to provide N95 masks, rapid testing, and HEPA filters to all schools in our province. There have been two years to develop a plan to manage school openings and closure during flare-ups. Again, we are assured by the Minister these will be at the schools on Monday. 

Somehow, many are not convinced. Numerous parents are feeling insulted by the announcement. Parents and educators and others have received platitudes, not clear direction. There is no means for parents to make confident decisions on the safe return to school.  

The stoppage of COVID 19 data collecting in schools is very telling. We needed data to predict and plan. The health system collected data to project outbreaks, needs, and resource allotment. And – here we are in January 2022, still without a coherent plan. Minister Lecce gives assurances without substance.

So, in a class of 30 children, if nine children are absent, we as parents will be informed there are 30 per cent of students missing. We will not know the reason why they are absent. Interestingly, over the years I recall getting notes home on a regular basis about a head lice outbreak in the class, yet I will not know if my child has been exposed to COVID.

Lecce stated every child and educational staff person will be provided with two antigen tests to be used when symptomatic. But if we’re not informed of those being tested positive, how do we know the extent of the problem we face?

Lecce has remained curiously absent for the past month. He finally gave an announcement with little or no clarity and random regurgitation of stale talking points. It seems obvious the absence was not used to develop a plan.

Lecce proposed vaccine clinics in the schools for teachers, staff, and children. Where are they? Hepa filters were proposed last year – we are now told that thousands are being distributed to schools. Weren’t they distributed last year?

It is all too clear that a planful and proactive response has been missing during a time of emergency, replaced by a reactive, posturing, and politically motivated administration. The execution of any firm and consistent plan might have diverted us from this predicament.  

To make schools safe for our children right now, we need free rapid tests for staff and students, boosters for teachers and education workers, functional ventilation in all schools with HEPA filters and smaller classes. Enhanced supports for those students who have fallen behind because of the closures will be imperative.

From experience, I can say that there are many adults who are at their wits end, stressed, anxious, and worried that they or a loved one will contract COVID and die. Many are exhausted from working double and triple shifts caring for the thousands of ill people and covering for sick colleagues.

Children feel this anxiety as strongly as do their parents. As a social work practitioner, I can say investment in services for children’s mental health will be essential.

Constituents of Simcoe North deserve more. You deserve better. You should demand leadership that provides assurance and a clear plan of action. You should demand the presence of your representatives in your time of need, not avoidance and absenteeism.

This level of lackluster response leaves you with uncertainty and worry for your children’s education and safety in the classroom. It has been 22 months since the onset of the pandemic. Any government with real concern for its people, its schools, its businesses, could have done better. This one isn’t it.

Elizabeth Van Houtte
President and Candidate
Simcoe North Ontario NDP

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