October 21, 2020

The new hallmark advertisement in many of the radio programs you can listen to in Waterloo Region are about how the government is failing its students and educators during this trying time. Quite frankly, they are right, for all the same reasons that we saw strike action from teachers earlier in the year before the pandemic, and with the traditional call to arms of “it’s not about the money.”

Unfortunately, this time it’s absolutely all about the money, but not necessarily for teaching wages.

There’s a bit of cruel irony in Premier Ford’s retightening of gathering limits after his declaration that the second wave of COVID-19 has arrived, with the most memorable and publicized action being that bars are making their last call earlier and that all strip-clubs need to be shut down to prevent spreading events.

This led to most teacher unions in the province, and especially in Toronto and the GTA, to collectively hold their heads in their hands and anxiously exclaim what every activist says when something affects the school-age demographic: Won’t anyone think of the children?

The parking lot in front of Clemens Mill Public School in Cambridge, Ont. A student here tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 21. (Mike Reitmeier/Spoke Online)

The answer to this problem, simply put, is education funding: the root of all fiscal evil in this government’s budgets.

We need increased funding to all school boards across the province to decrease class sizes and hire more teachers to manage them. Obviously, there are only so many classrooms in our schools, which is why online and hybrid learning environments need to continue as they are, but the government needs to realize that online learning really is not every student’s cup of tea. At worst, the funding should be used to hire additional educators to manage the online education components of the school year.

Average class sizes have not been adjusted to create proper social distancing (legislation dictates an average of 23 depending on the grade), and instead have grouped students into cohorts which stay together throughout the school day. We need increased research to find a better solution to social distancing than the cohort system because even with minimized contact, it means that one asymptomatic case in a cohort could still result in multiple infections, especially if a teacher then tests positive.

While the government is providing PPE for all school staff, children are expected to have their own. However, masks are only mandatory for Grades 4 and up, with Grades 3 and under being “encouraged, but not required, to wear non-medical or cloth masks in indoor spaces, including school transportation” according to the COVID-19 reopening schools’ plan. This almost directly contravenes actual provincial, and in the case of Waterloo Region, municipal recommendations, legislation and by-laws which dictate mask wearing. The province suggests masks to be worn at a minimum age of three or higher, while the municipal by-law for Waterloo Region dictates that mask wearing is mandatory for children ages five and up in public spaces.

For additional irony, “colleges, universities, and schools” are not considered public spaces under this by-law.

Schools should not be considered exceptions to the rule in terms of public safety, especially when our children are at risk. Twelve schools in the WRDSB have had students or staff test positive for COVID-19 in the past month since students went back to school for a total of 16 cases.

Premier Ford, you have spent two years finding fiscal efficiencies in the provincial budget. It’s time to put all that money you’ve saved to good work for our children.

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