'Nothing new': More questions than answers in Ontario's back-to-school plan, teachers' unions say

Ontario's newly announced back-to-school plan falls short on providing guidance surrounding vaccines and contact tracing, teachers' unions in Waterloo Region say.

"It's just a revision of what we've been doing for the past 18 months and there's nothing really of substance, nothing new," said Patrick Etmanski with Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association Waterloo Region.

Ontario's plan for September, revealed on Tuesday, will see all students able to return to the classroom full time for the first time in months.

Remote learning will still be an option.

The 26-page plan outlines additional safety protocols, including self-screening for symptoms daily, but did not provide information on how schools will deal with COVID-19 outbreaks or if there will be different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

The Ontario government said additional information is "forthcoming."

"People are wondering what the heck is going on when it comes to things like testing and tracing, what is that going to look like in September," said Jeff Pelich with Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, Waterloo Region.

Among other safety guidelines, masks will be mandatory for all students between Grade 1 and Grade 12, but aren't required outdoors or while eating.

The government says school boards must be prepared for potential closures if the COVID-19 situation worsens.

The union for public high school teachers says the plan to have secondary students return to only two courses a semester is not what the local board planned for – a plan the union says was approved by the province months ago.

"Now it appears anyway that we're being told to go to quadmester and that's going to be extremely frustrating," said Rob Gascho with Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Waterloo Region.

For parents and students in the area, the plan has drawn mixed reactions.

"I'd go to school, it's my parents' decision and I get to see my friends, but I would stay home if I had the decision," said Grade 5 student Angela Rikita.

Some parents are now left wondering if school boards will allow them to rethink their decisions about in-person or remote learning.

"Instead of sending them in person we'd rather go online or instead of going online, we'd rather send them in person. Is there going to be that option for parents? Are they going to reopen that discussion?" said parent Wendy Ashby.

With files from CTV Toronto.