Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that public and private school students will not be returning to in-school learning in June. Over two million elementary and secondary school students will close out the 2019-20 school year at home; learning on their dining room tables remotely. The minister said during his May 19th announcement that plans will follow before the end of June. They include how the next school year will begin and what learning opportunities will be available this summer.
School boards, school administrators, and educators are all working hard to deliver some semblance of normal in these abnormal times. In fits and spurts, classroom education has moved home.
While not perfect, what has been rolled out in such a short amount of time is better than what students in many other provinces or countries have received. The connectivity gap and socioeconomic disparity aside, Ontario’s education system is doing its best to support students. Even with all its flaws, Ontario has a great education system. That is why this change from classroom to in-home education delivery has gone as well as it has. The successes of this transition are not because of Lecce’s ministerial leadership, but despite it. Remember that before COVID-19, Ontario was heading towards a full-on education strike at a level not seen since the 1990s. A pandemic settled the education contracts, not Lecce.
The onset of COVID-19 began two months ago. This should have been an indication that changes to how students go to school, physical spacing, and other considerations are needed. Scientists and public health officials say this is just the first wave and other waves will occur until a vaccine is developed. Given that families are only receiving dribs and drabs of announcements from Lecce in one-to-two week intervals, it shows that there is no longer term plan for returning to school in September 2020. Why not? Given that boards and educators are doing the heavy lifting now to get students through this school year, the lack of a plan by now is disappointing.
The disruption of COVID-19 to all our lives has been, and continues to be, immense. While many adults struggle with the changes to our day-to-day routines and habits, adults have had years of experience and knowledge and have some resilience. Children do not have that benefit.
Students, and their families, deserve to know now what the school year will look like in September. What are the contingencies? How will schools operate? Students deserve better than half-made announcements. Students deserve better than this.