By Sue Tiffin
In her memoir, disability rights activist Judith Heumann wrote of how historic changes that had been fought for might be taken for granted by those who hadn’t seen the work put in to advocating for change, “but our government is constantly changing. It was created by groups of people and it gets changed by groups of people. This presents us with a choice: Do we want to be the people creating the government we believe in, or do we want to be the people simply accepting whatever comes our way?”
After the school reopening announcement made at the end of July by the Ford government, many parents and caregivers were stressed that calls for smaller class sizes had been ignored, and uncomfortable with having questions unanswered before having to make a choice that felt rushed given the registration timing and lack of information.
Make the best choice for your family, is what parents are being told. It’s a soothing thought, one that helps us more comfortably focus on what is best for us, but mixed messaging compared to what we have heard since March, when we worked collectively, locking down the province to flatten the curve for the greater good. We must make a decision for our kids with the information we have at this time, but we can also consider what we can do to support a responsible reopening that works for more families, heeds the advice of professional educators and medical guidelines, protects our public schools and prevents another province-wide lockdown.
If we are “all in this together,” as goes just one of the oft-used phrases of 2020, then it seems we need to do more to create a school reopening plan better than simply accepting what has come our way so that we can best protect everyone with a safe and viable option. Locally, our confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been low, though we know numbers can too-quickly increase with poorly organized gatherings.
We can take control ourselves to keep cases low by teaching our kids proper hygiene and practising mask-wearing; ensuring our personal social bubbles are small and the risky behaviour that’s been creeping into our lives is paused as our kids join a classroom and bus cohort; donating to programs that will support families that will struggle with the costs of buying individual classroom supplies, reusable meal containers, and protective outdoor gear; working with our employers and employees for flexibility that allows working parents to drive kids to/from school if possible and work from home or have sick days when our kids have to stay home with colds, and offering curbside options at local businesses so families don’t have to continue taking their kids into stores.
But whether our kids will learn at-school or at-home, or if we even have school-aged kids, we can also advocate together for better – contacting our provincial government to ensure our insistence on responsible leadership and a quality, better plan with a thoughtful priority on safety is heard. We need to raise our voices, and as with raising our kids, it’s going to take a village.