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2020: The year of living dangerously for educational workers in Ontario

in Education/Opinion by
$309,000,000 not enough for safe schools
The Israeli system, which re-opened as parts of Ontario soon will be, was forced to quickly shut down.

I cannot imagine what my former colleagues are thinking about the 2020 calendar year.

This has probably been the toughest year ever for Ontario educational workers. The public seems to have forgotten that the year began with a series of job actions by unionized educational workers from across the province hoping to convince an intransigent government to negotiate in good faith.

Teachers were winning the battle for public opinion and the government was on the back heel until COVID arrived last March throwing the school system into chaos.

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Are extracurriculars ‘dead on arrival’ this year?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

Many students of all grades and backgrounds become involved in extracurricular activities at their school. Pre-COVID there was a myriad of activities available for students at minimal cost: sports, music, drama and clubs of all shapes and sizes.

Parents and students are wondering if, with schools reopening, will extracurriculars be returning too?

In late July, the Ontario government stated, “Organized sports and clubs have been given the green light to proceed if physical distancing can be maintained and equipment is cleaned regularly.”In Ontario, high school sports are governed by OFSAA, the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.

The organization has formed a Return to Sport Committee with input from community sports organizations and public health officials. “We will be ready when it is safe to return to play,” said Nick Rowe, president of OFSAA.

In mid-August, Wes Hahn, the new director of education for Trillium Lakelands District School Board said he hoped that some school clubs might be able to operate virtually. He downplayed the possibility of sports where physical contact between participants is hard to enforce and social distancing would be impossible.

As one long-time high school coach noted, “I don’t think there will be much staff interest this year. Coaches as a whole are getting older, and teenagers are prime COVID carriers. Buses, change rooms, gyms and pools will be prime breeding grounds for this illness.”

Music ensembles face serious hurdles, too. “How can you socially distance with 40 kids in a music room?” wondered a music teacher. “How can you play a number of key instruments with a mask on? Extracurriculars are dead on arrival this year, and that makes me so sad.”

Officially sanctioned or not, extracurricular activities can only take place if teachers are willing to lead them, something that’s far from certain.

A veteran elementary teacher has put on numerous plays and pageants but just doesn’t see them happening this school year, saying such activities don’t feel safe for either teachers or students If those safety concerns aren’t addressed, the teacher added, “I will not be in my building one minute longer than I legally have to be.

What options are parents considering?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

Back-to-school decisions have never been as complex as the ones facing parents and guardians this fall.

With no vaccine and concern about a second wave of the pandemic arriving in late fall, parents spent much of the summer agonizing about whether to send their children back to school, enrol them in e-learning or home-school them this year.

Since Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce made their announcements on schools reopening, social media have been ablaze with parents of school-aged children asking for advice from other parents who are facing the same circumstances.

One common topic is the concept of “podding,” where a group of parents combine financial resources to hire a teacher to instruct their similarly-aged children either in person or online, at least for the fall and early winter. The teacher provides the expertise the parents don’t have, the cost is shared across several families, children are no longer being isolated in their family group, and the parents can wait out the growing pains that regular schools will experience in dealing with COVID-19.

Depending upon the size of the pod and the number of children involved, the costs would likely be in the range of $50-$100 a week per family.

Most local families, of course, cannot afford podding.

Three parents of multiple children agreed to be interviewed anonymously for this article. They all agreed that they had very few choices for the fall beyond sending their children back to school and hoping that the province and local schoolboards can keep their children safe.

“The Catholic board seems to be playing catch-up,” one parent observed. “Communication has been terrible, and rumours become Facebook facts when the board is silent. I have heard that our board is allowing cottagers to enroll their children locally rather than return to their urban homes. I have phoned the board office to find out if that is true and gotten no satisfaction,” she continued.

“I don’t have the competency to help my kids as they enter high school,” a second parent admitted, “and our internet is just not good enough to sustain the two of us working from home and our kids trying to do their schooling from home. I am terrified, as are my girlfriends.”

“I think Dougie (Premier Doug Ford) has gone for cheap rather than safe,” said a third parent, “but families like ours don’t have the choices that some do. One thing though, they won’t be riding the bus. Fifty kids on a bus … those are mobile petri dishes. I will drive them and pick them up.”

Supply teachers will not be confined to just one school when students return in fall

in Education by
$309,000,000 not enough for safe schools
“Staff and student safety are paramount, but folks have to make an income," says Hahn.

Moving from school to school is something supply teachers (or occasional teachers) have always done, as they work to fill in the gaps in the system. It will continue to be an expectation of supply teachers, even during the pandemic – a reality that so far, the province seems willing to ignore.

The initial investigations of deaths at long-term care homes in Ontario pointed strongly to part time staff working at multiple facilities as a key part of the problem with virus spread.

Staff members acted as vectors for the novel coronavirus, carrying it from one facility to the next.

In an interview with Trillium Lakelands District School Board director of education, Wes Hahn, he said the board was “just starting to look at this issue.”

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TLDSB says long-term occasional teachers’ statuses won’t change

in Education by
ETFO votes overwhelmingly for strike action if necessary

Larry Hope, director of education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB), says the board will not be laying off any long-term occasional teachers (LTOs) in the wake of COVID-19.

Hope was addressing a Facebook rumour that suggested the board would be laying off all their long time LTOs on April 3. But the director says “if a person was doing an LTO their status will not change.”

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Province announces provincial plan for distance learning

in Education by

Few were surprised today when Premier Doug Ford announced that public schools in Ontario will be closed until at least May 4, 2020.

At a press conference featuring the premier and Minister of Education, Steven Lecce, parents were provided with information about what distance learning is going to look like.

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Distance learning may be the new reality for Ontario students

in Education/Opinion by
Distance learning may be the new reality for Ontario students

Premier Doug Ford, in a surprisingly frank interview with CFRA Ottawa on March 26, told the host that he expects social distancing and closures to continue well into the early summer.

Ford, following the best scientific modelling available said June or July might be the earliest that Ontario reopens for business. The ramifications of that statement are rolling across Ontario at this moment like a tidal wave as people begin to rethink work, travel and school plans for their children.

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TLDSB has ‘no expectation’ that formal learning will happen at home during pause before April 3

in Education/Health by
Where is our local voice? School board should speak out about Ford’s classroom plans

In a letter to all parents of the Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) catchment area, Larry Hope, director of education, says he has “no expectation that students will engage in any formal academic learning” before April 3.

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TLDSB tells province it is concerned with fewer teachers, mandatory e-learning

in Education by
TLDSB tells province it is concerned with fewer teachers, mandatory e-learning

The Trillium Lakelands District School Board has written to the minister of education, Stephen Lecce, about the unique challenges facing our local board in wake of provincial cuts to education.

The letter comes on the heels of an Advocate opinion piece that questioned why the local school board was not doing more to advocate on behalf of local students. For instance, a few Greater Toronto Area boards wrote letters directly to the minister to share their concerns.

TLDSB chair of the board, Bruce Reain, told the Advocate that TLDSB largely relies on the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) to represent its interests.

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Where is our local voice? School board should speak out about Ford’s classroom plans

in Education/Opinion by
Where is our local voice? School board should speak out about Ford’s classroom plans

These are tumultuous times in education in Ontario. Regular strike action from educators these past few months is drawing attention to the Conservative government’s plans for education, which involve larger class sizes, e-learning without clear regard for planning and internet infrastructure, and a suggested pay raise for educators far below inflation.

Education workers don’t much like the government’s plan; neither, apparently do parents.

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