Karen Brown posing in ETFO office building
ARTICLE

The Need to Organize and Work Together Has Never Been Greater

Karen Brown

With COVID numbers holding steady and plans for the recovery starting to materialize, many ETFO members are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. It has been an incredibly challenging two years, with little relief in the first part of this school year as educators worked to support students and families, many of whom faced significant struggles throughout the pandemic. I want to start by acknowledging and thanking you for the important work you do in your classrooms and schools every day. On top of teaching and supporting your students, you fought for the investment, safety measures and resources public schools need, a daunting task when we are contending with a government set on undermining our world-renowned public education system.

I also want to acknowledge how difficult and stressful these years have been for ETFO members. Educators bore the brunt of systemic underfunding and, in two studies (CTF and OHCOW/IWH) in 2020, indicated they were experiencing “unbearable levels of stress and anxiety.” ETFO has worked to provide support and resources to members, but we know that the way to an equitable recovery and more supports and resources for public schools is through replacing the current government with one that believes in public education.

Even with a provincial election in the wings, the Ford Conservative government has the audacity to plan more cuts to public education. According to the 2021 Report from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office, the government’s plan includes $12.3 billion in cuts over the next nine years, despite the fact that if we have learned anything this year, it is that public education and other public services desperately need investment. In focus groups that ETFO ran this year, we heard time and time again from parents and ETFO members about the need for smaller classes and more supports and resources for students.

This government’s funding cuts to public education, along with the implementation of the hybrid model of learning in a number of Ontario school boards and a long-term plan to continue online learning for Ontario students beyond the pandemic, raises red flags for parents and educators alike. ETFO members in some locals know the impossibility of teaching under the hybrid model first-hand – everyone suffers – the educator, the students online and those in the classroom. We also know the government plans to create a permanent online education system beyond the pandemic, opening the door to privatization of curriculum development and delivery, and syphoning much-needed resources from our public education system. Further to this, the government made legislative changes to the Education Act and the Ontario College of Teachers Act, removing important safeguards and entrenching the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) as an extension of the government, eroding teacher representation within the council, committees and panels of the OCT and effectively ending self-regulation of the teaching profession.

We know the Ford government’s attack on Ontario’s public schools has had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous, Black and racialized communities. Dismantling systemic barriers that impact students and educators must be at the forefront of any recovery plan for our province. As ETFO continues to work on our anti-Black racism strategy and other important equity initiatives, we will continue to push the Conservative government to go beyond empty promises and make meaningful commitments.

While the past couple of years have been difficult for ETFO members and other frontline workers, the reality is that our best hope for our next round of bargaining, for the health and safety of ETFO members and their students moving forward, and ultimately for the well-being of Ontario’s public education system, lies in working together to organize and vote this government out of office.

There are many ways for ETFO members to get involved, but the need for your involvement in this election has never been greater. ETFO has training available for members as well as regional organizers assigned to different parts of the province who will help you get as involved as you would like in organizing for the election. If you haven’t done so already, add your name to BuildingBetterSchools.ca/mobilize and an ETFO organizer will contact you.

We know better schools bring brighter futures, and I look forward to organizing with all of you. Wishing you a safe, restful and peaceful holiday.

– Karen Brown