That seems to be the extent of the bluster contained in a press release issued by the Quebec English School Boards Association, unanimously endorsed by all nine English boards, including the ETSB.
In a radio interview following the public threat to use their authority to determine when and how to re-open schools within their jurisdiction, ETSB Chair Michael Murray said, ‘we are still aiming to open schools May 11’. This after a litany of challenges the board will face in order to meet the government’s arbitrary deadline.
That means today, May 4, in the midst of the uncertainty, parents have to decide whether or not to hold their noses and dive into the shallow end of the pool.
The QESBA’s flexing may have put the education minister on notice that not everything will play out as planned and on schedule, but it did nothing at all to help parents make one of the toughest decisions of their lives, or appease the fears and legitimate concerns of teachers planning for what they know will be a — well you know the term.
The QESBA would have been wise to borrow a page from Quebec’s First Nations school boards that wasted no time exercising their constitutional authority to state quickly and unequivocally that schools under their management would not re-open until September in order to give adequate time to plan a safe re-entry.
And don’t think for a moment that First Nations schools are not dealing with the same type of socio-economic challenges other communities face: food insecurity, special needs children, lack of home support in some cases- none of which are addressed in the government’s re-opening scenario.
There will be no breakfast or lunch programs, no mention of support for children with special needs, no stable environment since children may have a different teacher, a different classroom, and possibly a different school altogether.
The driving force behind the hasty return to the classroom is obviously to kickstart the economy, staffed by overqualified babysitters, already on the government payroll.
The education minister, and more importantly the ETSB, should know that teachers don’t just show up in the classroom every day to keep children occupied while their parents go to work. They are professionally trained to plan lessons according to a set curriculum, and the presumption of a full class. They measure the progress of the group as a whole and provide individual support to children who fall behind. None of this is possible in the current scenario of makeshift, half-empty classrooms, anxious children, parents and teachers, living under the shadow of a deadly virus.
The issues surrounding childcare and the economy would have been better addressed by expanding access to essential daycare for more working parents or subsidizing parents who need private daycare, so businesses and manufacturers can gradually get back to work.
Since schools closed in March, teachers have been preparing and teaching using telecommunications. Access to technology has since been improved by the government to provide more resources to teachers, students and parents. Online classes could have been enhanced once the uncertainty was lifted about when schools would reopen and teachers and pedagogical leaders could have created an educational plan to the end of the year that could have been followed in the safety of their own homes. With a thoughtful plan, resources could have been devoted to children with special needs, and attention given to meet the needs of children living under difficult circumstances.
A majority of elected commissioners of the ETSB stated at the last board meeting they had misgivings about the May 11 return to school and parents who contacted them believed it was premature to send children and teachers back to the classroom, yet the board adopted a ‘let’s do what we can to meet the deadline’ stand.
English school boards, and our own ETSB, get a poor mark in this first post-Bill 40 test to demonstrate why school boards are necessary.
The QESBA’s seemingly tough stance to remain closed until health and safety is assured, then to hastily fall into line, means they accept 10 days notice is adequate to revamp an entire transportation system, designate and sanitize dozens of classrooms to assure the safety of children, teachers, support staff and bus drivers and for teachers to provide educational services to children in the classroom and at home. If the boards’ plan was just to flex and acquiesce, it would have been better to say nothing at all, rather than add to the chaos.
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