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FORUM: What can we do to fight for safe public education? (Aug. 2020)

September 9th, 2020 · No Comments

Premier’s plan creates chaos, sows division

By Jessica Bell

Since school closed in March, our family has been struggling with the impossible job of full-time work and full-time parenting our two school-aged children. I, along with the parents of Ontario’s other two million school-age children, have been waiting for the Ontario government to release its back-to-school plan. However, 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 online learning for the remainder of the time.
  • Elementary students are back full time with full class sizes.
  • Lack of government funding means only some of the safety measures Sick Kids Hospital experts are recommending will be implemented;  daily screening, mandatory masks for teachers and students grade four and up, and the hiring of 500 public health nurses. However 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 work unless their children are in school. Still, 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. Uncertainty and fear is driving some parents to delay the return to public school for homeschooling pods or to 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. School board trustees want to protect students from the kind of drastic cuts that a ministry will certainly make 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, safe public education and childcare during the pandemic and beyond. 

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 are three useful ways to take action now:

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 division. 

DONATE AND VOLUNTEER WITH GROUPS ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE

There are many groups worthy of your support or involvement, including Parents of Black Children, the Ontario Parents Action Network, and Fix Our Schools. There are 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.

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University—Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion