Since school closed in March, our family has been struggling with the impossible job of juggling full-time work and full-time parenting our two school-aged children. I, along with the parents of Ontario’s two million school-age children, have been waiting for the Ontario Government to release its back-to-school plan, but its release - just weeks before school is scheduled to begin and without any serious consultation with the community - brought feelings of relief, anxiety, hopelessness, and rage.
What exactly is in-store for our kids come September is still being feverishly worked out by public health units, schools and the government, but the gist at the time of writing is this:
- high school students will go back to in-school learning at least 50% of the time in cohorts of 15, with on-line learning for the remainder of the time
- elementary students are back full-time with full class sizes
- a lack of government funding means only some of the safety measures Sick Kids Hospital experts are recommending will be followed. There will be daily screening, mandatory masks for teachers and students grade four and up, and the hiring of 500 public health nurses, but there is not enough funding for improved ventilation in schools, a maximum of 15 kids a class, access to working washrooms and sinks, and safe bussing.
Safely reopening schools to full-time learning is essential to our kids learning, our mental health, and the economic survival of families who simply cannot economically survive unless their children are in school, but the Ontario Government’s plan is too little, too risky, too cheap and too late for school to be as safe as it needs to be.
Premier Ford’s plan is also creating chaos and division in the school community. The uncertainty and fear is driving some parents to delay the return to public school for homeschooling pods or permanently leave for private school, leaving behind many parents who cannot afford to make that choice.
The urgent cry for full-time school is creating divisions between parents who are desperate to have their kids return and teachers who are reluctant to risk their health and teach in crowded poorly ventilated classrooms.
The government’s decision to underfund its plan is building rifts between some parents and teachers who want school boards to take a stand and pass an unbalanced budget that costs out what’s truly needed, and school board trustees who want to protect students from the kind of drastic cuts that a ministry will certainly do if they take over a rebellious school board.
This is exactly what Premier Ford wants. When a school community is divided, and parents with means and political influence leave the deliberately underfunded public school system, we are weak. And when we are weak we are less able to fight the conservative’s agenda to cut public education funding, break teachers unions, and introduce privatization through online learning delivery and charter schools. Our kids’ future is at stake.
If we stick together we can make the Ford Government provide the necessary funding and direction to ensure our kids can access affordable high quality and safe public education and childcare during the pandemic and beyond, as well as provide additional support to Black, Indigenous and racialized students and families who are experiencing the worst impacts from COVID-19, and ensure parents receive paid leave and protection from being fired if they must stay at home.
Teachers, parents and students forced this government to back down on school budget cuts, massive class size increases and the threat of privatized online learning last year. We can do it again. Here’s four useful ways to take action now.
Join our “Get Active for a Safe September” Townhall
Thursday September 3, 6pm - 7:30pm
Get the latest information on the back to school plan
Learn what educators and parents are doing to advocate for safe schools
Discuss with parents and educators in the #UniRose community about what we can do together to advocate for positive change
This will be a participatory meeting with breakouts. RSVP @ www.jessicabellmpp.ca/registersafeseptember
Send a personal message to Premier Ford
You can send a message to the Ontario Government via jessicabellmpp.ca/safeschools. I encourage you to share your story and your activism on social media because powerful stories of personal experience help isolated parents see they are not alone and that action is possible and necessary.
Join your school parent council
Now is the time to work with your parent council, principal and teachers to take useful political action as a school community, from safely organizing and attending rallies to having your school community write a sign-on letter to the Ontario Government. Friendships and working relationships with your school community are the ingredients to social change and the antidote to the Conservative Government’s divisive plan.
Donate and volunteer with groups advocating for useful political change
There are many groups worthy of your support and involvement, including Parents of Black Children, the Ontario Parents Action Network, and Fix Our Schools.
There’s four million parents, two million students, and 160,000 teachers in Ontario. There’s just 72 Conservative MPPs. When we work together we will win real and permanent change for our kids, for our public schools and childcare system, and for our province’s safe future. Let’s get to it.