Provincial Update: Back to school with justice

Submitted by Joel Harden, Ottawa Centre MPP

The Ford Government has announced its “back to school” plan, and calling it a plan is generous. 

School boards were told to prepare for various “scenarios” given developments with COVID-19, without much in the way of additional funding. 

This is not acceptable. Everyone agrees that public health is paramount under COVID-19, but families have been juggling work and child care for months, and we need imaginative proposals that allow kids, education staff, and parents to return to some level of normalcy.  

On July 10, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board endorsed a plan to offer 5-day-a-week education for students, but we know this can’t be done without the provincial funding for staff, cleaning and special education. The provincial government needs to ensure school boards have the funding to achieve this. 

Otherwise, parents, notably women, are likely to leave paid employment, and kids will suffer as they miss out on crucial learning. As Alex Munter (Head of CHEO) has said, kids need a full return to school, and staff deserve the support required for it to be safe. It’s time to organize. 

On July 17, we hosted a conversation on Facebook Live with Erika Shaker, one of Canada’s foremost experts on public education who happens to live in Ottawa Centre. We discussed what a back to school plan with justice can look like, and the full video of the conversation is available here. 

It’s time for action on child care

For a long time, politicians in Ontario have paid lip service to child care. Funding has been promised, but it’s always fallen short. Now COVID-19 has forced the issue — safe child care requires proper funding, and that funding is needed now. 

For decades, talented early childhood educators have subsidized our child care system. They have done so by taking low wages, and insufficient working conditions. 

Ontario’s recent experiment with full-day kindergarten is a case in point. Imagine being responsible for a room of thirty kids whose ages range between 3 and 4. Now imagine several of them with special needs. How can two staff safely manage that room? 

But now the situation is worse. After months of parents and kids being stranded by daycare closures under COVID-19, there is intense pressure on the Ford Government to act, and support safe and well-resourced child care options. 

That’s what we talked about during our child care town hall on July 22. I was honoured to host my colleague MPP Doly Begum, Ontario’s Critic for Child Care along with two leading voices in this sector, Morna Ballantyne (Child Care Now) and Alana Powell (Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario). A video of the roundtable is available on our Facebook page. 

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