Laura Chesnik, Elementary Teacher, Co-Host of Education Is A Right and MLPC Candidate in Windsor, Ontario
For our own mental health we need to make our No actually be No!
The decision of the Ford government to postpone March Break from
March 15-19 to April 12-16 in Ontario was one more in a series of
government decrees with which educators are being hit over the head day
after day. There is no predicting what the government will do, as they
refuse to involve the people concerned at any level. This trickles down
into our schools as schedules, classes and routines are all upended
from one day to the next. You cannot plan or predict -- as an
individual or as a teacher or education worker or as a parent with kids
-- when this is the situation. It leads to immense stress for us and
the kids, and then makes our stress even more intense because we are
worrying about our students. A lot of people are taking stress leaves
as a result of having physical symptoms caused by this situation.
The government's main argument for the postponement of March Break
was to "limit opportunities for congregation." They alleged that
congregation outside the school is what has caused previous spikes in
COVID-19 cases in school-aged children. But where are the basic public
health measures such as guaranteeing proper ventilation and mass
testing -- not this targeted "wherever we decide" testing, but mass
readily available testing? Where are minimum standards for distancing
in schools? Where are the paid sick days so families can readily comply
when they need to stay home when they or their children are
symptomatic? Without providing these conditions, for the government to
claim moving March Break was to keep COVID-19 out of our schools is
disingenuous to say the least and, in my view, criminal when one
considers that they are blaming the students and their families for the
spike in cases instead of taking up their duties to the people.
Obviously, cancelling March break contributes to our stress as the
break would have been a chance to stop and think. Parents are also at
the mercy of decisions made without them, such as being forced to
choose, at the height of the second wave, which learning model
(face-to-face or virtual or paper packages) their children would
for the rest of the year. You can guess that many additional families
chose virtual, which then led to classes being reorganized, students
changing classes, bringing in new teachers and staff, etc...
In the face of all this, we are not going to let ourselves be
victims of this virus or of our government's criminal indifference to
our health and safety, including our mental health. There is no end in
sight if we rely on the government or just reduce ourselves to
complaining about how bad they are and waiting for an election. No
Educators are making demands for changes in our working conditions in
our schools, such as proper PPE including N95 masks, proper testing,
proper ventilation in each of our rooms not just the school as a whole.
So far, we are being told that the school "meets or exceeds standards"
without answering our specific questions so that we can have
peace of mind or take measures.
Where demands are not being met or are out of the control of the
school or the school board, refusing to accept what is unacceptable is
more and more becoming a way to affirm our humanity. In this respect
the starting point is our right to refuse to go along with things which
are clearly unsafe. It is a matter of affirming our right to freedom of
speech and conscience to take a stand for our own health and safety
which upholds the rights of all to health and safety. As things move
forward I think more and more teachers and education workers will find
ways to say No! under these difficult circumstances. Taking sick leaves
and doing some breathing exercises are not solving the problem. We are
protecting our own mental health by taking up our social responsibility
to make our No mean No!
This article was published in
March 8, 2021 - No.