Frustratingly, COVID-19 remains very much a part of our lives. Whereas strides have been made to return to normalcy in some aspects of our lives, those moments still remain bound by at least some restrictions and safety requirements to help mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. And, despite 78% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated, COVID still manages to spread with ease, a testament to the virulence of the Delta variant, which represents essentially all new cases in Ontario today.
Given the above, one would think that the vaccine is completely ineffective. A flop. Fake news. The statistics, however, demonstrate that COVID is now predominantly a pandemic of the unvaccinated. New cases are largely attributed to those who have yet to receive both doses of the vaccine, and admissions to hospital and/or ICU for treatment is, essentially, only occurring with unvaccinated people.
Consider now the scenario unfolding in our schools. A large number of unvaccinated people will be gathering in numbers which prevent proper distancing, while also permitting the indoor removal of masks for a considerable amount of time each day, while having full knowledge of the airborne nature of a potentially deadly or damaging pathogen. Ford thinks that Ontario teachers can't teach math, but it's his math that's just not adding up.
In presenting the above thoughts, the intention is not to scare but to remind people of the reality. As teachers, the return in September is exciting, our energy overflowing after a summer of great ideas for new activities and adventures to have with our students. It's hard to hold a teacher back in the new year. As a word of caution, though, please remain vigilant to the safety precautions in place. The largest block of people in Ontario who remain unvaccinated are the students we teach. Through increased vigilance, you can help to minimize the risk of infection for you and your class.
New Daily Cases in Ontario
Vaccines and You
Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. Full stop.
The above statement holds true for an extraordinarily high percentage of the population. Having been rigorously developed using sound scientific principles, all vaccines have undergone extensive testing, and results from studies have been scrutinized through a peer review process. It is in this peer review process that faulty studies are illuminated and their confounded findings dismissed. Those which can withstand detailed analyses by other researchers who are experts in their field form the basis of our collective scientific understanding. Through both lab-based studies and real-life application, we know that vaccines, including those using mRNA technology, are a very safe and effective way of protecting us against deadly diseases such as COVID-19.
If you have not yet been vaccinated and you are eligible, please consider visiting your family physician to have an honest and robust discussion about the vaccine and you. As a qualified medical professional, they are the best suited person to listen to your concerns while furnishing you with accurate information. The numbers do not lie - those who are vaccinated are infected in statistically significant fewer numbers. The comparisons are even more stark when one considers the rates of hospitalization and ICU admission. Vaccines work.
Pandemic of Misinformation
The Internet has been a great equalizer for access to information. Unfortunately, it has also facilitated access to damaging misinformation. Discerning between truth and falsehood has become an increasingly difficult task, particularly on an Internet dominated by algorithms which shape our digital experiences. Our news feeds, search results, video recommendations, friend suggestions, and more are largely influenced by an artificial intelligence which seeks to serve us the information we already like and agree with. With the same ideas and perspectives echoed back to us consistently, it's easy to fall prey to the effects of misinformation and buy into "alternative facts."
Luckily, we have experts in myriad fields of science whose life work it is to conduct research, review others' research, determine truths, and communicate their collective understanding to us. If the numbers themselves aren't convincing enough, here are the facts about the COVID vaccine.
COVID Vaccination Declaration Policy
The Ministry's Position...
Proof that the individual has completed the educational program prescribed by the Ministry of Education. The program is to be completed outside of working hours.
The program must cover:
how COVID-19 vaccines work;
Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19;
the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19;
risks of not being vaccinated against COVID-19; and
possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination.
Rapid Antigen Testing Requirements
COVID-19 Vaccination Information For Educators
The Association's Position...
Provincial OECTA, in tandem with the other education unions, fully supports mandatory vaccinations for all eligible people in Ontario schools. On August 18, the Association issued its statement in favour of this measure since being fully vaccinated provides the greatest level of protection to school communities and students, especially those under the age of 12 who are unable to be vaccinated at this time.
Throughout the summer months, OECTA called upon the Ford government to implement a mandatory vaccination policy that affords appropriate work accommodations for those who could not be vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons. In advocating for those who would not get vaccinated, the Association pressured the government for improved precautions to help ensure the safety of all of our members and others in our schools.
On September 5th, all members were sent an email in which the Association discusses its position on the vaccination declaration policy. All members are encouraged to read the email very closely. The following outlines some of the key positions held by OECTA as it pertains to the application of a vaccination declaration policy...
You cannot ignore it and refuse to comply. The board may make a determination of your your vaccination status and/or you may be subject to administrative suspension and/or disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
Do not disclose any information beyond what is required to prove your vaccination status.
If you are partially vaccinated, the board may require information about when you are getting the second shot.
If you are partially vaccinated, you will need to show proof when you have had the second shot administered.
Medical or religious exemptions require documentation to that effect.
Members who are deemed by their employer to have violated school board vaccination policies and are subject to administrative suspension and/or disciplinary action will be represented by the Association in accordance with its policies and procedures. The Association defends the legal and contractual rights of all of our members under our duty to provide fair representation in accordance with the Collective Agreement and relevant labour legislation. Please be advised that union representation does not guarantee that members will not be subject to administrative suspension or disciplined for violating school board policies.
Rapid Antigen Testing Kits
In the near future, the board will be distributing Panbio Rapid Antigen test kits to staff who are unvaccinated and those who have chosen not to disclose their vaccination status. To address any questions that our impacted members may have, please feel free to peruse through the links provided in this section.
The government has outlined its expectations for the completion of the test.
Testing is to take place at an individual’s residence prior to attending work.
Testing should be implemented consistently on a weekly basis with at least 3 days between tests and conducted Sunday to Friday.
Testing should not take place more than 48 hours before attending work.
Test 1: Monday; Test 2: Thursday; Repeat,
Test 1: Friday; Test 2: Tuesday; Repeat, or
Test 1: Sunday; Test 2: Wednesday; Repeat.
To protect the privacy of individuals, results from testing will be emailed to the confidential email address COVIDtesting@hwcdsb.ca.
Enhanced COVID Protocols and Strategies
As part of its response to the pandemic, the HWCDSB has adjusted practices and protocols pertaining to its buildings' HVAC systems. These include:
MERV13 filters (where possible)
Quarterly filter changes
Regular monitoring, inspection, and maintenance of HVAC equipment
Adjustments to building ventilation schedules such that they begin two hours earlier and have been prolonged an extra two hours each day.
Installation of a HEPA unit in all FDK classrooms and Special Education rooms; and
Ultraviolet germicidal systems will be installed in several schools.
In our discussions with the board, we sought understanding of their position that they have improved the ventilation in schools. While the above will undoubtedly be helpful, it does not reveal how much the measures have improved the quality of the air we breathe while at work. As teachers, assessment and evaluation is at the heart of what we do. Through diagnostic testing, a baseline is established which can be used as a reference point when claiming improvements have occurred.
To our knowledge, the board does not have any air quality tests through which it is making its claim. Without a baseline upon which to draw a comparison, however, board officials maintain that the safety of the air we breathe has been improved. We remain hopeful that their claim is accurate. Should ventilation concerns arise during the year, be sure to notify the health and safety representative at your school and our office immediately.
The practice of cohorting has returned taking centre-stage in drama class. Let's cut to the chase - cohorting is largely an exercise in theatrics this year. Students across cohorts will be transported to schools aboard poorly ventilated and crowded buses. Participation in extracurricular activities will see students not only cross cohorts, but also schools when sports leagues resume play. While not diminishing the extreme developmental value and mental-health benefits to students from these sorts of experiences, the practice of cohorting, frankly, is not occurring. To the board's credit, whereas the province would allow cross-cohorting at recess, students in the HWCDSB will remain in their cohorts (until future notice). But, in the end, gestures like these are half-measures which make for great window dressings, but are, ultimately, ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus.
Similar to last year, all staff and visitors to a school must have successfully completed the provincial screening tool prior to entering the building. We have been assured by the board that procedures are in place to ensure that all staff are completing this measure.
For students, this step is a requirement, as well. Students must provide confirmation of their screening results to their classroom teacher. The school board has provided the following documents for that purpose.
All staff are also required to complete a daily self-assessment. Any staff member failing the self-assessment must stay at home, self-isolate and contact the HWCDSB for further direction.
Fire Drill Procedures
Ontario Regulation 213/07 requires that schools and private schools conduct a total evacuation fire drill at least three times in each of the fall and spring terms while school is in session. To facilitate compliance with this regulation while maintaining adherence to Public Health's COVID protocols, adjustments to fire drill procedures are necessary.
In the 2021/22 school year, the following procedures will be implemented on the day of a scheduled fire drill:
a one-time sounding of the fire alarm during an all-school announcement to familiarize all students and staff with the sound of the fire alarm.
throughout the day, classrooms will evacuate on a staggered basis while keeping with guidance provided by the Ministry of Education and public health officials. The teacher may use a cell phone or other signaling device to signify the start of the drill.
More direction will come from your principal.
In the event of an actual fire alarm, the building will be evacuated according to the approved school Fire Safety Plan.
The Provincial Model for a Local Police/School Board Protocol requires schools to conduct two lockdown drills each school year. In the 2021/22 school year, drills for lockdown, secure-and-hold, and shelter-in-place will be aligned with the guidance given from Public Health and the Ministry of Education.
The Fire Marshall's office has offered the following guidance:
Drills should be conducted while maintaining physical distancing and wearing a face mask (as required).
While a response to bomb threats may have historically been practiced through evacuation of the school, the requirement to ensure that boards’ staff, students, and other stakeholders are aware of their obligations/responsibilities within individual school plans, can be accomplished through discussion and/or visual demonstration.
Teachers are encouraged to do drills within classroom cohorts.
In an actual lockdown/secure-and-hold/shelter-in-place event, adherence to COVID-19 protocols may not be achievable.
Pivoting to Online Learning
As the fourth wave of COVID starts to ramp up, members should keep in mind that they may be called upon to pivot to virtual learning in the event of a class, school, or system closure. This is not to be interpreted as a requirement to maintain simultaneous virtual and physical classroom throughout the year. If you are notified that your class will be closed and you will be teaching online, please know that it is outside the bounds of reason to expect a teacher to be teaching synchronously the same day of the closure. It takes a significant amount of time to pivot to virtual.
Government and board officials do not have the lived experience of teachers who, throughout this pandemic, have sacrificed time with their families while putting in countless 'overtime' hours, often ignoring their own wellness for the benefit of their students' learning. Catchy phrases like "pivot to online learning" make for great soundbites, but they gloss over what is actually involved in virtual teaching.
So, what is reasonable in this situation? It is well within the realm of possibilities that a teacher might pop online, greet their students, and then provide some asynchronous work to be completed throughout the remainder of the day while the teacher works to be prepared for synchronous learning, commencing the following day.
Pay Grid and Absence Balances
At the start of each school year, the folks down at the Mulberry department are faced with a tsunami of records which need updating before operations begin again in September. This task can be fraught with small mistakes which may lead to large headaches for you down the road. Over the years, quite a few members have discovered that they are being paid incorrectly, or that the board inappropriately accounted for their absences in the previous school year. These mistakes can be fixed, so it would be very much in your interest to take 5 minutes of your time to ensure that all records are accurate.
As you are aware, we are paid on a grid which takes into account years of service and qualifications. If you are a young teacher who is still moving through the grid, you should see your work from last year reflected in your grid placement this year. Please note that a teacher may be moved through the grid using a "half-step" for any half-years of experience. Please refer to the collective agreement for the details pertaining to half-steps.
Many of our members use their summer vacations to upgrade their credentials. In some instances, completion of a course may lead to a category change on the pay grid. Please note that the school board will not automatically adjust your placement on the grid. Teachers are responsible for submitting a record of the course completion to the Qualification Evaluation Council of Ontario. The teacher must then provide notice of a category change to the board before adjustments are made.
With respect to absence balances, please ensure that the board has accurately appropriated the absence codes to any days you were away last year. In some instances, teachers have been deducted a day (or multiple days) from their Personal Illness allotment. Since top-up days are determined through one's absences in the previous year, it is crucial that all absence records be accurate. As a reminder, each top-up day yields 10 days paid at 100% in the event that a teacher needs to access their short term leave days. Without top-up days, pay is reduced to 90% while in the short term plan. It may not seem like much, but when you're not well the last thing you need to be concerned with is your finances. Check your absence balance. It is worth the effort.
ARTICLE V: SALARY AND EXPERIENCE RECOGNITION
5.01 a) The payment of Teachers' salaries will be 1/26th of the annual salary.
Payment will commence on the first Thursday of the school year and continue at two-week intervals. The unpaid balance will be paid on the last teaching day of June or within two (2) weeks of leaving the employ of the Board, whichever is the earlier.
If the Teacher does not commence duties on the first day of the school year, the bi-weekly payment will be calculated by dividing the total salary that will be earned by the number of pay periods to the end of August, as follows:
Grid salary/Number of legal school days = Daily rate of pay
Daily rate of pay x Number of days remaining in school year = Total salary
Total salary/Number of pay periods remaining in school year = Bi-weekly payment
If a Teacher terminates employment prior to the end of the school year, the Teacher will receive the remainder of the salary earned to the date of termination on the next following pay date.
Daily Rate for Occasional Teachers
For our members who are currently working in a daily occasional role, the daily rate for the 2021/2022 school year is $248.48.
How to Check Your Pay
How to Check Absence Balances
Step 2: Choose "Pay" from the menu.
Step 2: Choose "Absences" from the menu.
Step 3: Multiply the value in the "Gross Pay" by 26. It should equal your placement on the grid.
Step 3: Verify that all records are correct. Your top-up days should equal last years balance of personal illness days.
Travel Allowance Buckets
At the start of each year it is a good idea to refresh yourself on the three different travel allowance buckets available to you. The first two, Articles 8.01 and 8.02, are defined in our contract. For most members, these are the ones to be most concerned with. The third bucket is reserved for travel incurred in the execution of union related business.
It is important that you keep an accurate and itemized list of all travel. Your list should be separated according to the bucket through which the funds are dispersed.
Article 8.01 - Board Approved Business
Teachers shall be reimbursed for required driving while in the course of their employment, in excess of their daily commute and for travel between sites during the instructional day in accordance with the Board’s policy re: Employee Expenditure – Travel/Conferences.
Article 8.02 - Extracurricular Allowance
Each school will be provided with an annual allowance, which will be used by the Principal to reimburse Teachers who use their automobiles as a result of their involvement in extracurricular activities.
Missed Planning Time Bank
Planning time provisions in our collective agreement state that we will receive a defined amount of planning preparation and planning time per week. Following the situation with OT coverage last year, we cannot stress enough the importance of banking your missed time. Begin tracking now and remain diligent in recording your missed time throughout the year.
Article 10.01 Preparation and Planning Time - Key Elements
If you have questions about planning and preparation time, please reach out to the office for assistance.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Each year, staff in the HWCDSB participate in mandatory training related to asbestos. This training, is an important component in building the capacity of workers to identify and understand the hazards in their workplace. As a designated substance (O. Reg. 490/09), asbestos is regulated in schools by Ontario Regulation 278/05. Substances which are safe do not receive laws and regulations to govern their handling. Asbestos is dangerous, and so it has a law to govern its handling.
To help in protecting workers, the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) at each school is highly encouraged to request information pertaining to all planned renovation projects at their first meeting of the year. Requests should also be put in for the Designated Substance Report which is prepared before each construction or renovation project (OHSA 30(1)).
If a project will involve disturbing or potentially disturbing Asbestos Containing Material (ACM), the JHSC MUST be consulted prior to the project's start. Additionally, all building occupants must be notified with a formed letter from the Asbestos Coordinator. Workers have a right to know about the hazards in their workplace, particularly with a highly dangerous substance like asbestos.
The HWCDSB Asbestos Management Program outlines the manner in which the board will handle asbestos. The JHSC at each school, in addition to all workers, should become familiar with this document and the asbestos binder (located in the caretaker's office) which provides information such as the location of confirmed and suspected ACM in the building and procedures to follow when ACM is disturbed. If you have further questions about asbestos, planned abatement projects, or if you have concerns about a material in your workplace, your questions should be directed through your site-based JHSC which can access additional information from the board.