March marks a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a year that has been incredibly stressful and difficult, especially for those who work on the front lines. Educators have been carrying the responsibility not only for the well-being of your own families but for that of your students and your school communities. You have done this in consistently challenging circumstances, as the government has resisted adequately funding the response to COVID-19. Nevertheless, ETFO and other advocates have moved this government on a host of important issues including province-wide masking for students in Grades 1 and up, asymptomatic testing, priority vaccination for educators and other safety measures. We continue to advocate for masking for Kindergarten students, air purification units and CO2 detectors for every classroom and smaller classes in Ontario public schools. With new variants of the virus in circulation, we know that we need to continue to be vigilant.
In February, thousands of educators from across the province joined the ETFO Executive and staff for a series of town hall meetings. We appreciated the opportunity to hear from members directly about their questions and concerns. We heard very clearly that members continue to be concerned about their safety, health and well-being. We heard from members in virtual assignments who are struggling with limited resources and increased workloads, about issues with prep time coverage, class sizes, cohorts, social distancing and ineffective personal protective equipment. Please know, that your Provincial Executive, office staff and local leaders are working together to continue to address these issues.
In response to the concerns you have raised in conversations with your locals and in town hall meetings, we have created resources to support you. These resources are intended to assist you as you continue to navigate the pandemic, to support your mental health, to support those teaching in virtual classrooms as well as to support your continued work for equity and social justice in your classrooms. As we continue to raise these issues with the government, I encourage you to visit etfo.ca to access resources and to learn about the advocacy work that is happening. You can search the site by keywords such as “virtual environment” and “mental health” to access resources.
We also heard from you about how you are seeing the pandemic impact already vulnerable communities. This pandemic has laid bare existing systemic inequities, which means that crises like COVID-19 impact some communities over others. Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income and other marginalized people have disproportionately suffered the impacts of COVID-19 in our province. Addressing systemic inequities is a part of every conversation we have with the Ford government, but to get real movement on these issues, we need change.
We know there were challenges in public education before the pandemic. COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing inequities and shed light on the gaps that we have in our public education system. As we look ahead, we must consider the challenges in our public schools that have resulted not only from this year, but from years of underfunding. We must remember that the Ford government was intent on implementing an agenda of cuts to public education before the pandemic arrived and will continue down that path if given a chance to do so.
As we enter the spring and start to look beyond this year and hopefully beyond this pandemic, ensuring that the systemic issues in public education are addressed moving forward is a key priority. It has always been ETFO’s goal to protect and improve what Ontarians value so much, a world-renowned public education for every student in the province, regardless of their personal circumstances or their geographic locations. We know that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom and we will fight back against any notion of permanent virtual learning in elementary. We hope you will join us through local organizing and through our campaign at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.
ETFO is planning to continue town hall meetings for members in the spring as we see our way to the end of this school year. Please ensure that you are signed up to the ETFO e-newsletter at etfo.ca to receive notifications about the next town hall meetings as well as updates on events and opportunities.
– Sharon O’Halloran