The following op-ed by ETT President Jennifer Brown was published by Metroland Media on August 14, 2020.
Doug Ford is failing our students, educators, and communities with his dangerous, incomplete, and underfunded plan for reopening schools in September.
When our kids are not safe, no one is safe. Not teachers. Not families. No one.
The Ford government needs to stop its austerity agenda or our children and families may pay the price.
Our teachers, parents, and public health officials all recognize this. Why can’t Doug Ford?
Every day, as President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT), I am hearing the concerns and anxiety of our 11,000 teachers. They’re scared. They’re scared for the children in their care. They’re scared for their families and for their own well-being.
Doug Ford’s plan does not provide adequate funding for the basic essentials to address COVID-19. Our schools need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all staff and students, hand washing facilities in every classroom, regular deep cleaning and, most importantly, more teachers for smaller class sizes to maintain physical distancing.
Our teachers are right to be worried, as many have overcrowded classrooms of 25, 30, or more students where physical distancing is impossible, and where safety is further compromised by aging buildings with poor ventilation and windows that do not open.
Distancing concerns are further magnified in our youngest grades where play-based learning is essential to the curriculum and where student-teacher interaction makes contact inevitable.
“Returning to the classroom with 26 Kindergarten students is extremely concerning,” shares Amanda Ricketts, a teacher at Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy.
“Three-and four-year-olds do not know how to physically distance. How do I comfort the child who is crying and screaming? How do I dress the child who does not know how to dress themselves? I want to be back in the classroom with my students, but it must be done safely.”
Parents everywhere share the same fears as educators about safety and crowded classrooms come September, which is why they’ve been crying out to this government for better funding for our schools.
Parents are worried. They’ve seen the Ford strategy—cross your fingers and hope for the best—playing out in Israel, Australia, and the United States, and they’ve seen that it just doesn’t work.
“This government… is really sacrificing our youngest learners in order to prioritize an economic reopening rather than their health and well-being,” says Jessica Lyons of the Ontario Parent Action Network, a coalition of parents calling on the Ford government to do more to ensure a safe September.
Finally, as much as Ford claims that his plan comes endorsed by public health officials, the support just isn’t there.
Last week, in response to official recommendations from Toronto Public Health (TPH), Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustees voted to call on the provincial government to provide the necessary funding for smaller class sizes.
In their report, TPH recommended to the TDSB that “the number of students in the classroom should be smaller than usual class size” to “maintain physical distancing” and to minimize the “spread to others” should anyone in the class contract COVID-19.
Even SickKids, which Ford touts as the basis of his plan, says “smaller class sizes should be a priority strategy,” with their President adding that they “cannot and will not support” a plan where “physical distancing” is compromised “by the number of children in the class.”
Is this really “the best plan, bar none, across the country,” as Ford boasts?
This is a cost cutting exercise at the absolute worst time for the government to be trying to save a buck and a double standard that gets a failing grade.
In grocery stores, banks, and other businesses we must now wear masks, stay six feet apart, and adhere to occupancy limits. Why should our schools, where our children spend up to six hours a day in an overcrowded space, have fewer protections?
As is often the case, the cost of inaction will be borne by marginalized minorities, including Black and Indigenous peoples who will have no choice but to send their children back into unprotected schools, while those with privilege will be able to afford to keep their kids home or pay for other means of schooling.
These inequalities cannot be exacerbated. Our schools are at the heart of our communities. Doug Ford needs to provide proper funding to keep them safe.