The Ontario government seems intent on pushing ahead with its plan for a full-blown return to school in September. The government’s plan does not provide enough funding or time to make sure classrooms are safe from becoming hotbeds of COVID-19 infection. Education workers across levels and school boards are expressing their worry and anger that their concerns about safety are not being given priority.
Jen Reid is a member of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. She sits on the executive of Halton ETFO and co-chairs the Political Action Public Relations Committee. Spring Magazine interviewed her about the impact COVID has had on teachers and how they plan to react to the governments plan.
Can you tell us about how you and teacher colleagues responded to the Covid outbreak in March? How did your teaching duties change, what kinds of pressures you felt? How was the support teachers received from the school board?
JR: I think that how teachers responded to the Covid outbreak in March was relatively individualized. It was all so chaotic and uncertain for everyone, and so teachers did the best that they could in a strange and challenging situation. I have a strong technology background, and so actually enjoyed the creative aspect of shifting to an on-line environment. Others who had a steeper learning curve found it very stressful. It was a great deal of work initially – similar to the intensity required in September – but then we all fell into a routine. We received quite a bit of support from the school board.
Leading up to the likely reopening of schools, what kind of worries and concerns do you and teachers you know have about the potential health risks that teachers, support staff and students will be exposed to?
JR: I am extremely concerned about the reopening of schools. If we look at other countries around the world, those who were able to have smaller class sizes (such as Denmark and Germany) things went relatively smoothly. In countries that had regular class sizes, such as Israel, cases spiked to 1,500/day within a month of reopening. So I am worried for myself, my colleagues, my students, and my own children for our physical health. I also have significant concerns about everyone’s mental health.
Do you have confidence in the schools maintaining themselves as safe spaces for those working inside?
JR: No. We need smaller class sizes.
How are teachers you know responding to the Province’s plan to reopen in September? What kind of resistance or push back have you heard?
JR: The Ontario Education Workers United just held an amazing meeting on Thursday. It is a group of all education workers and is providing a lead. I am not sure how it will unfold, but teachers and education workers will be organizing in August in a variety of different ways.
Locally, I have organized a Halton Concerned Teachers group to share information and organize a fight back. Our work will be connected to the Ontario Education Workers group. So far we have focussed on contacting MPPs with our concerns.
What message do you have to parents and others about the concerns you have about safety in the schools? What would you like people to do to support teachers?
JR: Get in touch with the government and support the actions we will be doing. Join the Ontario Parent Action Network who have been amazing at sharing information. Contact Lecce and Ford directly with your concerns, as well as your own MPP.
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