It’s late July. Back-to-school season is right around the corner. Yet the Ontario government has not done a single thing to keep our kids (and their teachers, and staff) safe beyond hoping that vaccinating 80 per cent of the 12-and-over group will magically do the trick.
It’s unconscionable to continue prioritizing the social and economic benefits of adults over the basic needs of children. Think I’m exaggerating? Then find me where, in the Ontario government’s reopening plan, it discusses kids returning to in-person schooling. (Casinos and strip clubs are in there, though.) Ontario kids have missed more in-class learning in the last academic year than anyone else in Canada. There is not a word about the coming academic year in the reopening plan. Like it doesn’t matter.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is waiting on the province for guidance, which is expected in early August. At the moment the board says it’s “ready to safely welcome students back to school in September to learn, grow and discover.” Pretty much like it was last September. But like last year, it won’t be able to do that for long if community transmission gets out of control again.
The province’s science advisory table just said in-person learning and extra-curricular activities should be back in September “barring catastrophic circumstances” such as the health care system being overwhelmed. But here’s the catch: To give our kids the gift of normal life in September, we need to prioritize low community transmission and air quality improvement in school buildings.
Very little, and I’m being generous, has been done to improve air quality in schools. You would know if something was being done — there’d be Conservative politicians everywhere taking credit for it. There’d be trucks and guys in hardhats coming in and out of school buildings. Did you see that where you live?
I’m sure school boards are doing all they can, but they can only do so much. It’s the province that sets them up for success or failure, and whatever Education Minister Stephen Lecce says, nothing will change the fact that in-class learning was never included in the province’s reopening plan. Schools — and our kids, their teachers and staff — are all at the mercy of politicians who keep getting “careful planning” and “wishful thinking” mixed up.
We like to say kids are resilient. Yeah, well, we’re not giving them much of a choice.
Even children who are properly equipped for online schooling suffered — academically, physically, mentally and socially. There are children in our city who need support to learn, there are children who rely on school breakfasts for one healthy meal a day, and there are children for whom school is the only safe place. How do we explain to them that sorting out indoor dining is more important than their basic needs?
“Parents, students and staff deserve clarity,” says Ottawa Centre NDP MPP Joel Harden. “Hope is not a plan — we need action to ensure safe, in-person learning for September. Instead of cutting $800 million from the education budget, this government should invest in additional mental health supports, smaller class sizes, and ventilation upgrades. The first day of school is coming fast, we don’t have time to waste.”
I agree, but I don’t think it’s going to make a lick of difference. This government’s pandemic management style is to hope for the best and find someone else to blame when the best fails to materialize. In-person schooling needs to be a priority and for that everything must be done to keep community transmission low, including vaccination passports. The Ford government has already ruled those out, preferring to keep its fingers crossed that people behave responsibly now that everything is reopened.
It’s worse than a failure. It’s a dereliction of duty. Children can’t vote or be heard in the media. They’re counting on us adults to make sure their needs come first. We are failing them.
Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer.