A safe Return to School is Possible

Education workers, parents and students alike are concerned about the return to school in September. 

Teachers want to be back in their classrooms. Kids are tired of staring at phone and computer screens. Parents are eager to return to life as normal. 

But we’re not convinced that our governments are doing all they can to keep our school communities safe during this pandemic. As NSTU president Paul Wozney has emphasized: the current plan is simply not good enough.

We’re told we have to “learn to live with COVID-19.” This may be true, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who spend our days in schools should compromise our safety for the abstract goal of re-starting the economy.

The province has received more than $48 million from the federal government specifically to help with the safe return to school – yet there’s no indication that this money will be spent to ensure the most important measure for containing the spread of COVID-19: reducing class sizes to allow for physical distancing.

We know there are effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – in particular, physical distancing; and avoiding spending long periods in closed, poorly ventilated areas with large groups of people.
 
Why then are so many educational authorities across the country forcing students and school staff into exactly these conditions? 

Along with reductions to class sizes, properly functioning ventilation systems, and mask use (thankfully, most school authorities have now said they will require and support students to wear masks to school), there are other, complementary measures such as rapid COVID-19 testing, paid sick days for all workers (so parents can stay home with sick children) and even rent and mortgage freezes would allow families to make decisions about school based on the best interests of their children, not economic desperation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep inequities in our society for all to see: those who can work from home and those who can’t; those with and without access to technology; people with easy access to outdoor space and those without. 

If plans to reopen schools are unsafe, it’s the marginalized in society who risk the most – those children who must come to school because their parents have no choice but to return to work in order to survive. 
 
Governments are concerned about deficits and their bottom line. But our province and our country do have the means to ensure a safe return to school for all – not to mention to ensure that all Nova Scotians are fed and have a comfortable place to call home. 

In February, when the NS Liberal government decided to cut corporate taxes, it found $80 million dollars. In March, when the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine needed an upgrade, the government found another $8.5 million. 

A modest wealth tax on Nova Scotia’s four billionaires would barely be felt, but could yield millions for provincial coffers.

Safe schools are possible. Let’s demand them.  

Keep Hate Out of Our Schools

A Statement from Educators for Social Justice – Nova Scotia

During election season, teachers of all levels seize the opportunity to learn about politics. 

Many students have the opportunity to hear first-hand from politicians running to represent them in Parliament. More than a million students across the country will participate in the Student Vote program, and many will host candidates’ forums in their schools.

Regrettably, in this election cycle some politicians are spreading particularly hateful messages regarding immigrants, refugees, LBGT people, and others, and promoting climate-change denial. In Nova Scotia, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and the National Citizens’ Alliance (NCA) are running candidates in several ridings. Both parties use rhetoric ranging from explicit hatred to more subtle but familiar “dog-whistle” phrases targeting marginalized groups. 

These candidates should not be invited into our schools. It is incumbent upon us as educators in a public system not to provide platforms where these politicians can promote harm to our students and their families. 

Some well-meaning observers might ask “but what about free speech?” 

Free speech does not mean that anyone may say anything at any time. Institutions like public schools have the responsibility to filter out speech that may incite discrimination and violence, or that is based in faulty or misleading pseudoscience. 

Our centres for education (formerly school boards) have anti-discrimination policies such as this one. All schools in the province are subject to the provincial Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students

It’s one thing for politicians to express their hateful and unscientific views online, or out in the broader political world. It’s another thing for our public schools to legitimize them by inviting them to speak at assemblies of children.

We encourage teachers to explore the world of politics with their students, but to be mindful of what information we choose to share – just as we would expect of our students. 

Our students and their families – especially those from marginalized communities – trust us to create a safe and welcoming environment for all. This is not to be taken lightly.

EDIT (October 9th): Some principals have sent teachers a directive that “All candidates [a] district/riding must be invited” if any one candidate is invited. This is apparently coming from higher up. It’s disturbing that the Department of Education would decree this in this context, but teachers should know that the directive is out there (and that technically one could face discipline for not following what is apparently provincial policy).

Educators for Social Justice Support the Fight for 15

oooFight for Fifteen & Fairness Rally, October 2nd, 2018.

Educators see the effects of poverty first hand.

Every day, we teach students from homes which lack the basic necessities for a healthy, dignified life. The effects of poverty are many and varied: a lack of nutritious food; decreased access to health care services such as dental care or prescription drugs; constant stress and anxiety related to precarious finances; unsuitable housing; and more. All these factors eat away at the potential of learners in our classrooms. Through absolutely no fault of their own, students living in poverty are disadvantaged before they even reach the start gate.

Fighting child poverty means fighting family poverty. Children do not earn wages; their parents and guardians do. In Nova Scotia the median annual income for an individual is just under $32,000. Low-wage workers (those who make less than $15/hour) make up 32% of all working people. In households led by a single parent, 48% of children live below the poverty line. In all, nearly one in five children in Nova Scotia lives in poverty, a number that reaches one in three in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

This is why we endorse the Fight for 15 and Fairness campaign in Nova Scotia. The campaign calls for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $15, along with other measures to improve workers’ security and well-being, such as paid sick leave, better access to maternity leave benefits, and “just cause” protection for all workers.

In general, teachers in the public sector enjoy all these benefits and see the impact they have on our lives. We want all Nova Scotians to benefit from this same security. In our own workplaces, there are workers such as educational program assistants (EPAs) who make wages that are barely enough for a single person to live on, and even some teachers, especially substitutes, feel the impact of precarious employment.

Of course, any improvement in wages and employment standards must be accompanied by an improvement in measures to protect those who, for whatever reason, cannot work. The elderly, disabled people, and others deserve a decent, dignified life as much as any active worker.

As well, a $15 hourly wage is by no means enough to guarantee a dignified life for earners. In 2015 the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia calculated that a “living wage” that would allow for a family in Halifax to cover all its basic needs with a bit left over for savings was $20.10 per hour, a figure which has certainly risen since.

A $15 minimum wage and improvements in labour standards are the least that our government can do to begin to give working people a leg up and lift themselves out of poverty. We call upon this government to act immediately.

Public Education: Social Justice Project or Job Training?

edevent

Please join our panel for a discussion on “Public Education: Social Justice Project or Job Training?” Our panel will feature:

– Erika Shaker, Director, Education Project and Editor, Our Schools, Ourselves, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

– Tina Roberts-Jeffers, Community Activist for Inclusive Education, Steering Committee, Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education

– Rachel Brickner, Department of Politics, Acadia University

– Pam Rogers, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, former teacher, Halifax Regional School Board, member Educators for Social Justice

The event will take place Friday, September 28th from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Sobey Building, Saint Mary’s University, Room 255.

There is no attendance fee, but donations are welcome.

Sponsored by:
Educators for Social Justice
Nova Scotia Parents for Public Education
Saint Mary’s Department of Social Justice and Community Studies
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives–Nova Scotia

The Facebook event can be found here.

Nova Scotia Educators wonder if Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives support Doug Ford’s Education Policies

As Ontario premier Doug Ford speaks to the federal Conservative convention in Halifax tonight, Educators for Social Justice wonders if Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives share his views on P-12 education policy.

Since taking office on June 29th, Ford has abruptly cancelled a curriculum-writing session for Ontario teachers on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, he has ordered teachers to teach an outdated sex-ed curriculum written in 1998. This curriculum was created before social media and sexting existed, and makes barely any mention of LGBTQ people. This week, Ford set up a “snitch line” for parents to contact if their children’s teachers teach content from the newer, banned sex-ed curriculum.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party (NSPC) leadership candidates John Lohr, Tim Houston, Cecil Clarke, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Julie Chaisson have all tweeted support for Doug Ford since his election victory and will presumably be in the audience applauding him tonight. However, none have mentioned how they feel about his policy decisions on education.

As the official opposition in Nova Scotia, it’s reasonable for NSPC candidates to state publicly whether they support Doug Ford’s positions on sex education, as well as education to support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Nova Scotians deserve to know what they could expect from a PC government.

Media: contact esjnovascotia@gmail.com or 902 880 4714