Dear Minister Lecce and Premier Ford,
I realize that you have a big decision on your hands this week regarding school re-openings in Ontario, and that you are receiving “conflicting” advice from medical officials regarding whether or not it is “safe” to re-open them. Although you’ll most likely not read this open letter, I thought I’d give you a teacher and parent’s perspective of the damage this has done to our school aged children in Ontario – especially since neither of you making this quite serious decision happen to be educators or have any school aged children in your families. This is my lived experience as an educator and parent; please consider it and the lived experience of all educators and families in this province. Open our schools.
I’ve been an English teacher and department head in Ontario for close to 20 years. In that time, I’ve never had so many students struggling as I do right now – in regards to academics or mental health. Over a third of all the students in each of my classes are either failing, or on the cusp of failing; prior to the beginning of online learning I had 2 students failing; it’s quite common for me to have no students failing in a regular school semester. This significant decline in academic achievement is due to a variety of factors – lack of attendance, engagement with online learning, mental health, etc. When I follow up with parents about these issues I’m met with many responses – some ignore me completely, many are angry – at the system, not me, but I nevertheless get the brunt of it; and most of the mothers literally cry. They have no other emotion left to deal with their teenagers wasting away in closed bedrooms for 6 hours a day. This is the result of school closures in Ontario at the secondary level. Although a month may not seem like an eternity, it would be more than enough time for schools to turn things around for many of these students with intensive interventions, but we need your help to get them in our buildings. The online system of education lacks what the central communication of learning is: humanity. Open our schools.
As a parent of elementary school students, I also get to see another perspective of the impact of online learning on students in Ontario. Both my children attend a school with a very strong academic reputation, in an affluent neighbourhood with parents who are mostly professionals. Last week, we received an email from one of my child’s teachers that nearly a third of her students are no longer engaging in online learning or even showing up in Google Meets. My other child recounts her teacher asking all students to now turn on their cameras as so many don’t even respond to her via the online platform – she doesn’t even know if they are there. My youngest started off engaged in their learning, but is now begging me daily about a time to “log off”. The other, a straight A student tells me every day how much they “hate school”. These are kids with parents as teachers, who are excellent students at an above average school. They are barely hanging on, and to be honest I feel daily like it’s myself and their father hanging on for them, pushing them to continue as we also try to work from home. The amount of stress this has put on our household in the past two months has been relentless. By all factors, we’d be categorized as a family with children who are not “at risk” of underperforming in the online learning system, but here we are – with everyone we know in that boat, struggling to stay afloat. I can’t imagine how this scene plays out in households that started out struggling with the school system, or a family that was facing stress from illness, finances, etc. Again, although the return period would only be a month, this respite would be the life raft many families need, as well as a good amount of time to re-engage students in school and have them end the school year on a positive foot from which to begin the next. Open our schools.
Really, gentlemen, until you’ve lived through this experience of learning at home, while in a “lockdown”, you really have no idea what it’s like – do not patronize your constituents with appeasements of “knowing it’s hard” – you don’t know; you aren’t educators, and you don’t have school aged kids at home. You have no idea how much damage these school closures have caused. Ontario schools, students and families are in crisis as a result of the decision to close schools in this province for this length of time. I’m begging you as an educator and parent to follow the requests of the highest medical officials in paediatrics in this province: Sick Kids Hospital and CHEO in re-opening schools immediately, and setting a plan in place for both in-person summer school, as well as a regular return to school in September. Open our schools.
Mrs. Kyleen Gray