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 participate in 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 means 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. 14

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