Other voices are protesting too

The Government of Ontario’s preoccupation with containing and eliminating Covid-19 and its manifold harmful societal effects is, of course, entirely appropriate and the correct policy imperative of the moment.

Paying no attention however – or worse – being indifferent to the Covid 19-related dangers and risks to the province’s 150,000 children who attend independent schools is entirely unconscionable.

For many weeks, GAJE has pointed out that Ontario has refused to disburse funds it received from the federal government to abate the heavy burden upon the independent schools of making their schools safe for children and staff, even though those funds were specifically earmarked for all children ages 4 – 18 attending school in the province.

The government announced its budget on March 24 and still refused to share any of the “Safe Return to Class Fund” from Ottawa. As a result, many other voices are also protesting the government’s reflexive bias against the children in independent schools. We point out two op-ed pieces and one news story that recently appeared in the media.

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Amanda Dervaitis, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, published an opinion on behalf of the Supporting Students Coalition that appeared in the Toronto Sun last week.

She pleads with the Premier and with the Minister of Education to keep the promises they made to all parents in the province “to do whatever it takes to ensure our kids can continue to learn.”

Dervaitis dispels the commonly held, but completely false, notion that independent schools are learning domains of the children of the rich and famous. She explains that fewer than 3% of Ontario’s independent schools are what some might consider ‘elite’ schools. Of the 1,503 independent schools in the province, very few meet the stereotype of the private school.

“These 1,500 schools simply can’t absorb the tens of thousands of dollars in costs related to keeping students safe from COVID-19. No one wants an outbreak in a school. But with a third wave well underway in Ontario, we need to be doing everything we can to keep the virus out of every classroom….The premier should keep his promise and authorize funding for safe and healthy operations of all schools — for the sake of all Ontarians.”

Dervaitis’ article is available at: https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/dervaitis-nearly-1-in-4-ontario-schools-still-without-covid-support

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Sara Carson, the breaking news and education reporter for Simcoe.com, posted an article last week that points to the severe difficulties and challenges that local schools face without any financial help from the provincial government.

Rod Berg, principal of Timothy Christian School in Barrie, poignantly explained to Carson the injustice of the Ministry of Education’s Covid-19 supports funding policy. “[Covid-19] doesn’t go from the public school down the road and skip us. We are affected. And we have to make sure our kids are just as safe without any of that support,” he said.

Carson’s article is available at: https://www.simcoe.com/community-story/10363080–covid-doesn-t-discriminate-over-schools-simcoe-county-independent-schools-asking-for-help/

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David Hunt, the Education Director at the Cardus think tank, forecefully criticizes the provincial government for its discriminatory policies. His opinion piece appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

“It’s one thing to make a policy decision not to fund independent schools. But it is unconscionable to refuse public health resources to children and teachers of independent schools — especially when it puts an entire province at risk.

“Of the $760 million the federal government sent Ontario to help pay for schools’ personal protective equipment, enhanced school cleaning and other pandemic safety measures, not a dime has gone to independent schools. This is the untold story from the recent Ontario budget.

COVID-19 is a public health crisis, not a public-school health crisis. It is inexcusable that amidst a pandemic, Ontario’s government is disregarding the safety and wellbeing of children in nearly one in four schools.

“The government failed to announce how it would correct this injustice, leaving Ontario’s independent schools without any COVID-related support. Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have repeatedly claimed that keeping kids healthy and safe is their top priority. Yet, despite these schools bearing excessive costs and working tirelessly to honour all the rigorous COVID regulations and expectations, they have been left exposed.”

Hunt’s op-ed covers more territory than Ontario’s Covid-related education funding. It ranges across many of the sore point issues that emerge from Ontario’s antiquated, outmoded, out-of-step views concerning who exactly attend independent schools.

Hunt’s article is available at: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/hunt-independent-schools-left-out-of-ontarios-covid-support

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How can there be one health and safety Covid imperative for children in public schools and none at all for Ontario’s children in independent schools? Of course, there should not be. For Queen’s Park to maintain and perpetuate so uncaring a differentiation is an affront to decency.

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Be safe. Be well.

Shabbat shalom.  GAJE, April 9, 2021

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