The government’s announcement to open schools across Northern Ontario while keeping the entire province in lockdown has provided a wonderfully fulfilling and unique perspective to this local northern president.
The majority of my ETFO Near North Teachers’ Local (NNTL) members were fully prepared and welcoming of the prospect of returning to the physical classroom on January 11, 2021. What they were not prepared for was the government’s announcement that schools would be reopening on January 11, while our region remains part of a complete provincial lockdown, and the prospect of curfews being contemplated.
Allowing schools to operate at full capacity during this continued province-wide lockdown defies logic. Beyond the critical health and safety concerns, there is also poor and unreliable internet connectivity (lack of bandwidth) to support remote learning. This is an ongoing challenge and frustration for students, educators, and families.
With the number of Covid-19 cases soaring both locally and throughout the province, NNTL members have expressed bewilderment and a feeling of expendability. Do they matter? Why don’t they matter as much as their colleagues and students in southern Ontario?
To further exacerbate the situation, the Near North District School Board office will be closed and our Child Development Associate has been instructed to work from home and use teletherapy to interact with students. Again, why is working remotely an option for some and not all board staff? Classroom teachers will once again work in compromised environments, especially those who support students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 as local health units have determined they don’t need to wear masks.
In the North, we realize that we don’t carry much political clout. The majority of electoral ridings are held by Liberals or the NDP and even then, the number of ridings are too few to have a serious impact on determining the outcome of a provincial election. Size, geography, and distance from Queen’s Park further our sense of isolation. Even in non-pandemic times, protesting at Queen’s Park is not a viable option for many. The government’s decision to open schools in the North has left our members feeling they are expendable and that we have no recourse.
I do not believe there are any immediate solutions to the issues our northern teachers and education workers are currently facing other than to state that this pandemic clearly illustrates the unique challenges those in the north must endure.
Rob Hammond, President
ETFO Near North Teachers’ Local