A Safe and Sustainable Return to Publicly Funded Public Schools
Ottawa – The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE), the voice of more than 300,000 teachers in all provinces and territories, believes in a Canada where every child has equitable access to quality publicly funded public education. We urge all jurisdictions across the country to work together so that schools can reopen and stay open in a way that is safe and sustainable. To do this, we need a long-term strategy that goes beyond September; rather than rushing to reopen without adequate plans, delaying or staggering students’ return to school buildings will allow teachers and staff the time needed to properly prepare classrooms and common spaces, which is a better scenario than a failed restart. Instead, the current reopening plans for schools put forward by the Provinces and Territories throw caution to the wind. For months, teacher organizations have urged governments to listen. Unfortunately, the advice of our profession and our sector has been largely ignored, silencing teachers and leaving us concerned.
Months of efforts dedicated to physical distancing, working from home, the creation of outdoor spaces for restaurants, and enhanced cleaning protocols all risk being undone by unsafely reopening schools. It is illogical and completely irresponsible to accept that the rules successfully applied in so many places, which are the reason for Canada being in a position where it can reopen, are not being universally applied in public schools.
For public schools to operate safely, national standards on masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), physical distancing, clean environments, and screening must be followed by all jurisdictions across the country. The only way to make these requirements possible is to increase staffing: from teachers and support personnel, to custodians and bus drivers, and to also seek out alternate spaces where classes can be held. All of these protective measures require adequate funding, and so far no government in Canada is willing to foot the bill. But ignoring scientific advice in order to avoid investing in extra space, extra staff, and smaller class sizes that would keep children and teachers healthy and safe is a morally wrong and ill-advised economic policy. A safe and sustainable return to school buildings is possible if we are prepared to pay for it.
As with childcare, the safe and sustainable reopening of schools across the country is key to keeping the economy afloat. Investment in public education at this time is more important than ever. Provinces and Territories have currently committed slightly more than a billion dollars in additional funding for schools to reopen, which in most cases does not even make up for the cuts of previous years.
Education is also absolutely central to the country’s economic recovery: parents, particularly mothers, cannot go back to work if their kids cannot return to school. The Government of Canada’s decision to prorogue parliament as schools are reopening across the country is disappointing, especially when the Prime Minister acknowledged, after the new Finance Minister was sworn in, “Provincial and Territorial leaders have a responsibility to ensure our kids are safe in the classroom,” and simultaneously said that, “as the federal government we will do whatever we can to help with that.”
As the government works to set its new agenda, we urge the Prime Minister to include measures that help ensure that our schools safely stay open as we brace for an uncertain fall and winter amidst a potential second wave of infections.
As teachers, we want nothing more than to be back with our students; educating children and youth to the best of our ability in person, face-to-face, to assure they receive the best quality publicly funded public education possible.
Simply, we are saying that the return to schools needs to be done safely, from September through to June. Anything short of that is doomed to fail and will have repercussions for the entire country.
If schools are to remain safe sanctuaries of learning, 2020-2021 could be a school year for all to be proud of. If, however, corners are cut, and the necessary health and safety measures are not in place, the ripple effects of failure will be felt far beyond the classroom.