Two Ontario teachers’ unions fire back at Doug Ford over school reopening comments

The presidents of two Ontario teachers’ unions are criticizing Premier Doug Ford after he made comments Thursday alleging that labour leaders are the reason why schools remain closed to in-person learning.

The premier made the comments at an announcement extending the provincewide stay-at-home order for another two weeks.

“The school situation remains a critical concern for many parents,” Ford said. “On the one hand, we have some doctors saying they want to open the schools. On the other hand, we have the teachers' unions saying we can't do that right now.”

“We need public health doctors, teachers and labour partners to agree on the best path forward … we also need consensus, and we simply don't have that right now. So for the time being, we will need to continue with virtual learning.”

When asked by a reporter if schools will be able to reopen on June 2, the day the stay-at-home order is now set to expire, Ford responded by putting further blame on teachers.

“We have some (doctors) that are saying yes, but then we have the teachers' union that wants to potentially put an injunction against opening the schools. I just need the labour leaders to sit down with the (doctors) and come up with a solution.”

An official speaking on background said that an injunction was brought up in a discussion about schools reopening to in-person learning before teachers are vaccinated.

Shortly after, two of the largest teachers’ unions in the province took to social media to say they were not aware of any injunctions filed.

President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Sam Hammond said in a tweet that Ford’s claim was “just not true.”

“ETFO is not aware of any current applications for injunction by a teacher union to prevent the re-opening of schools in Ontario,” he said.

At today’s presser Ford spoke to “injunctions” from unions... Just not true!!

ETFO is not aware of any current applications for injunction by a teacher union to prevent the re-opening of schools in Ontario.

— Sam Hammond (@etfopresident) May 13, 2021

Meanwhile, Harvey Bischoff, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF) said that he has made “no such threat” and there is no legal action pending from their union.

Bischoff also said that he has not heard from the government since students moved to virtual learning.

“More absurd rhetoric from the premier,” he said.

Premier Ford said today that ed unions are seeking injunctions to keep schools from reopening. We have made no such threat, no legal action pending & have not heard from the gov't since the move to remote learning. More absurd rhetoric from the Premier. #OSSTF #OntEd #OnPoli

— Harvey Bischof (@HarveyBischof) May 13, 2021

It is not known if any of the other teacher’s unions in Ontario has filed or threatened to file an injunction.

Schools in Ontario were closed to in-person learning indefinitely on April 12, four days after a stay-at-home order was issued across the province. At the time, Ford cited “a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system" as the reason for the move to remote learning.

"I want nothing more than to be able to open the schools up again as soon as possible. But we all need to work together right now to get the community spread under control,” he said.

By the time Ford made the announcement, medicals officers in Toronto, Peel, and the Guelph Region had already ordered schools to close because of rising COVID-19 cases amid the third wave of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said that increasing community spread and that schools were closed the province’s ability to keep schools safe through case contact management “was starting to wane.”

“I'm getting a lot more messaging from my medical officers health throughout the province that they say we're now back into a level where we think we can start to deal with that. So we're in live discussions with them,” he said.

“We're going to have to have some more discussions both with our public health units, with the Ministry of Education to determine when's the best time, the right time, because our schools were safe, and we want them to open and stay open.”