SUDBURY -- With the end of the current school year just days away, educators in the Sudbury area are urging the Ford government to start planning for a safe return to in-person learning in September.

“Our hands are completely tied,” said Chantal Rancourt, with the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. “We’ve had the conversations we need to have at the school board level. The school boards had the conversations they have to have. But until we know what’s in place from the government, you can’t move forward with anything.”

Rancourt said both boards have already said the province's official plans won't be released until August.

"That doesn’t leave boards with a lot of time to prepare, depending on what is in that official plan," she said. "So I’d like to feel hopeful, but I’m cautiously optimistic perhaps.”

Officials said across the board, the goal for the upcoming school year is the same.

“It is the hope of every teacher that I talk to, to get back to in-person learning,” said Liana Holm, with the Sudbury chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

“We have to keep that focus on the health of students, on the health of teachers, on the health of our communities, rather than doing things like invoking a notwithstanding clause that takes away from the focus of what’s really good for the people where we live.”

Officials said the priority needs to be making classrooms safe over the summer with ventilation, social distancing and vaccines being a common theme.

“The more ventilation that you have in a school, the way better off everybody is going to be," said Holm. "If it takes the virus out of the room instead of letting it linger in the room, if they’re airborne, that is something that can only benefit everybody going forward.”

Officials said that money is also going to be essential to getting everyone back to some type of normal.

“We need some staffing for people to work on students who have learning gaps, special education students, vulnerable students who have high needs, the gap might be even wider than a regular school year and I believe we need some extra supports and mental health supports for students,” said Rancourt.

She said the time to start planning for September is now.

“I believe it’s unfortunate that we haven’t used this last year to start working on that," said Rancourt.

"I know sometimes when the government announces a lot of money for ventilation, that’s not something that can be done overnight. But let's use the summer, work with school boards, provide the funding for them to actually do the work on their ventilation systems. I believe that can be done during the summer -- or at least a big portion."