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Most B.C. parents in favour of face masks in class, but divided on back-to-school plans, poll finds

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Most parents in B.C. are in favour of sending their children to class with a face mask to wear, but are split on what should happen after school bells ring in September, a new poll suggests.

About half (49 per cent) of British Columbians surveyed by Insight West were in favour of the provincial government’s plan to reopen schools, while 42 per cent oppose it.

The poll confirms what Premier John Horgan already suspected — not everyone is pleased with the back-to-school plans, said the market research firm’s president Steve Mossop in a news release .

“Our latest poll on the state of readiness of parents and the general public to go back to school shows a significant level of fear and uncertainty,” reads his statement.

The poll suggests parents appear to be divided on three key facets: their comfort level with sending their kids back to class, their take on the idea of possibly wearing masks and their preferences between online and in-person learning.

If given a choice, four out of ten parents (41 per cent) prefer a mix of online and in-person classes, just over a quarter (27 per cent) would put their kids back in a full-time classroom setting and 27 per cent prefer all learning takes place online, according to the poll.

The poll suggests about half of parents (51 per cent) feel very or somewhat comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom, while another 30 per cent are not very comfortable and 19 per cent are not comfortable at all.

Parents also expressed concerns about isolating their children without any in-class learning and shortcomings in the quality of online learning.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents agree with the statement “if there is not in-class learning, I worry about my child(ren)’s socialization” and about two-thirds (63 per cent) concur that in-class learning is necessary because online instruction provides a “poor quality” of education.

Parents expressed concern

About half of parents (49 per cent) say they do not know how they will manage remote learning and a similar proportion (46 per cent) do not have childcare in place if their kids stay home, the poll suggests.

Parents were also split on whether their children would be safe from exposure to COVID-19 if they return to classrooms full time.

Four out of five of parents (80 per cent) agree they need more information about how the plan will work, and seven out of every ten (70 per cent) say the provincial government is not being strict enough with the rules around reopening schools.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (85 per cent) praise the government’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Masks in schools

In an interview on Wednesday, Mossop said he was most surprised about the overwhelming support for masks in schools, which presents a stark contrast to what he has observed anecdotally while visiting malls and in transit.

“[It’s] what people do versus what they say,” he said, adding there was less controversy in the responses this time around compared to another poll from about a month and a half ago.

The latest online study sampled 825 B.C. residents from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, according to the release. A comparable margin of error for a study this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

According to the B.C. government’s website, schools will be reopening with in-class instruction within learning groups, capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools.

The website states students and staff will not be required to wear face masks while at school.

It advises young children should not use masks and recommends staff and older students wear non-medical masks in situations outside their learning group and where physical distancing is not possible for an extended period of time. 

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice that will always be respected,” reads the website.

Non-medical masks will be provided upon request.

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Government of Canada announces ongoing investments to improve railway safety

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OTTAWA, ON, Sept. 17, 2020 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians safe by improving rail safety and increasing public awareness and confidence in Canada’s rail transportation system.

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, announced funding of more than $25 million over three years for the Rail Safety Improvement Program. This investment will support 165 new projects and initiatives that will increase safety and Canadian’s confidence at grade crossings and along rail lines.

The Rail Safety Improvement Program is an essential component of the Government of Canada’s commitment to improving rail safety and preventing serious incidents. In the past four years, $85 million have been invested in the form of grants and contributions.

Today’s announcement includes funding for:

  • 161 new projects that focus on Infrastructure, Technology and Research, including: safety improvements on rail property; the use of innovative technologies; research and studies; as well as the closures of grade crossings that present safety concerns.
  • Four rail safety Education and Awareness initiatives that focus on reducing injuries and fatalities in communities across Canada.

Quotes

“Rail safety remains my top priority, even as we continue to face the challenges of COVID-19. Over the years, our government’s renewed commitment to rail safety demonstrates our dedication to supporting projects that keep Canadians safe, stimulate the economy, and ensure that our rail network remains one of the most efficient and secure rail transportation systems in the world.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau,
Minister of Transport

Quick Facts

  • Grade crossing and trespassing accidents still cause the most rail-related deaths and serious injuries in Canada.
  • Transport Canada is taking action to implement recommendations from the 2018 Railway Safety Act Review report, including improving grade crossing safety and safer interactions of people and trains. Today’s investment complements efforts to bring together a broader range of partners to work with us to find ways to reduce largely preventable deaths and injuries at grade crossings due to trespassing.
  • This year, Transport Canada is funding four public education and awareness activities, 146 grade-crossing improvements including crossing infrastructure projects, 12 grade crossing closures and three technology and research projects across the country.

Related Products

  • Backgrounder – Rail Safety Improvement Program

Associated Links

SOURCE Transport Canada

For further information: Livia Belcea, Press Secretary, Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, Ottawa, [email protected], 613-314-0963; Media Relations: Transport Canada, Ottawa, 613-993-0055, [email protected]

Related Links

http://www.tc.gc.ca/

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Post-secondary students paying for inaccessible services as they study online

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OTTAWA —
Brandon Rheal Amyot is taking on debt to pay about $3,000 in tuition this semester, including fees for services and facilities that cannot be used.

With classes having moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students aren’t on campuses to visit libraries and athletic centres, if they’re even open.

On Thursday, Western University in London, Ont., announced an outbreak of COVID-19 that prompted it to shut down many non-academic activities, including athletics and recreation, as well as in-person events and club meetings.

Amyot, a second-year student at Lakehead University’s campus in Orillia, Ont., was charged fees for recreation and wellness, computer maintenance and supplies for the media studies lab.

The 23-year-old said it’s frustrating that students are paying the same fees for their education while they’re studying online.

“I don’t know what the quality of my education is going to be like,” Amyot said.

The university is doing its best to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amyot said, who argued it wasn’t provided with the proper resources by the government.

Lakehead University did not respond to a request for comment.

Brenna Baggs, a spokeswoman for Universities Canada, said post-secondary institutions need to be able to serve and educate students over the long term.

She said the hope is that facilities and services are going to be up and running again in the next semester or the year after that.

“In the meantime, the building doesn’t disappear,” she said.

“The cost of running and renting that building doesn’t disappear. The costs of paying staff to do their work remotely don’t disappear.”

Universities Canada is an umbrella organization that advocates for universities at the federal level.

The University of Toronto didn’t make changes to tuition fees for the fall semester, but it has reduced some student services and student societies’ fees by 10 to 40 per cent.

The Ontario government decreased tuition for domestic students by 10 per cent last year, then froze levels for 2020-21.

However, some international students are experiencing tuition increases of up to 15 per cent, said Nicole Brayiannis, the national deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students.

Some universities outside Ontario are raising their tuition for the fall term despite moving online.

Dalhousie University in Halifax has upped its tuition by three per cent for domestic students. The University of Calgary has increased tuition this year by five per cent for continuing students, seven per cent for new domestic students, and 10 per cent for new international students.

The issues that students are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic are not new, Brayiannis said, but they are worse than before.

“It’s simply been exasperated now, and it’s going to be a struggling reality moving forward,” she said.

She said decades of governments underfunding post-secondary institutions has led to a precarious situation where students are the ones now footing the bill.

She said students shouldn’t be forced to pay fees for services they don’t have access to.

“Students have been left behind throughout this pandemic and they’re really feeling the restraints of that,” she said.

Brayiannis said that holding classes remotely is costly but that shouldn’t be downloaded onto students, especially since that has drawbacks for students too.

Amyot said that studying online is an emotional experience.

“It’s a constant reminder that everything has changed.”

The federation is calling on the federal government to double the federal grant that students can apply for, which is up to a maximum of $6,000 for full-time students.

“That doesn’t even cover the full amount of tuition,” Brayiannis said.

The federation is also urging the federal government to reallocate the up to $912 million originally budgeted for the since-abandoned student-volunteer program and use it to extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit that ended last month instead.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.

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Ontario rolls back gathering limits in some areas as 293 new COVID-19 cases reported

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Ontario is rolling back gathering limits in some areas of the province, and also implementing new fines for people who host and attend large gatherings during the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

This comes as the province reported 293 new cases of COVID-19. Infections in Ontario have been on an upswing since mid-August.

Ford said that starting Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, gatherings are now limited to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Those new caps don’t extend to places like restaurants, movie theatres, banquet halls, gyms and convention centres.

Ford said that the new gathering limits don’t apply to those areas, as well as to schools, because they have “really strict protocols in place.”

“We’re comparing apples and oranges here,” Ford said. Instead, the new measures are meant to discourage things like parties.

People at any gathering must also maintain distancing measures with people outside their social bubble, Ford noted. 

“This is to send a message to the reckless, careless people who want to hold these parties,” he said.

The premier said the province is also instituting a minimum fine of $10,000 for the organizers of illegal social gatherings, as well as a $750 fine for people who show up to them.

“We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” Ford said. 

“They must be a few fries short of a happy meal, these people.”

Ford also said the province is freezing residential rent increases in 2021 and extending Ontario’s current ban on commercial evictions.

Most cases found in people under 40

According to provincial data, there were 35,134 tests completed Wednesday in Ontario, which is the most since the end of July. There is also a backlog of 37,624 tests currently under investigation.

In a tweet, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 85 new cases were found in Toronto, with 63 discovered in Peel and 39 in Ottawa.

Elliott said that 70 per cent of the new cases were found in people under 40.

“With a slight increase in hospitalizations to 53, ICU admissions and vented patients remain stable,” Elliott said.

Twenty-one patients are currently in intensive care, with 12 on a ventilator.

The province also counted an additional three deaths Thursday, bringing Ontario’s total to 2,825. A CBC analysis of local public health units, which is more up to date than the provincial figures, had the real total at 2,864 deaths as of Wednesday evening.

The province also marked 179 cases as resolved on Thursday.

Virus cases concentrated in urban areas

A CBC analysis shows that Ontario’s active cases — the bulk of which have been reported since Sept. 1 — are concentrated in the province’s most densely populated urban areas. Ottawa and the five public health units in the Greater Toronto Area account for 84 per cent of the current cases.

Of the more than 2,300 currently active cases in Ontario:

  • The suspected method of exposure for 54 per cent of cases is either unknown, missing or labelled as “no epidemiological link,” which means the novel coronavirus is being spread in the community.
  • More than one-third of active cases are among people in their 20s, even though that age group makes up only 14 per cent of the province’s population. 
  • More than half of active cases are in just two public health units — Toronto and Peel Region.

As cases trend upwards, the Ontario NDP says it plans to force a vote Thursday afternoon in the legislature on a motion to cap class sizes at 15 students.

“Parents are growing increasingly worried about their little ones’ safety,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

“COVID-19 cases keep going up, and more new infections are being reported every day among the students and staff who are back in school, with one school already being forced to shut down because of COVID-19 cases.

COVID cases have been reported at multiple schools in the province in recent days, largely clustered in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

“Doug Ford is penny-pinching on the backs of students, jamming kids into full-size classes to avoid having to hire more teachers and education workers,” Horwath said. 

“Parents, kids, teachers, education workers, school boards and public health experts recommend smaller class sizes. Today, with the province on the brink of a second wave, I’m calling on the legislature to change course, and finally cap all class sizes at 15.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has a majority, so for the motion to pass a number of MPPs would have to vote against their own government’s back-to-school plan. 

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