As the dog days of summer inevitably get ticked off of our collective calendars, more and more school districts are unveiling their plans for schools reopening come September.
In many jurisdictions, this process has been transparent and collaborative, with some areas already having a skeleton plan sketched out. BC is building upon its “voluntary return” experiment of this past June and has used a steering committee which included a wide variety of educational stakeholders, including parents, to create its plan. The New Brunswick government has also been as clear as COVID will allow on what school will look like come September. There, students will be placed in cohorts, will start school at staggered intervals, and may have to attend a different building to allow for physical distancing to be achieved. Manitoba has also released a plan of sorts, although by its own admission, the final details will not be revealed until August 1st. This plan has taken the standard “three scenario” approach; full return, partial return and no return, and parents have been warned that they may need to be ready for schools to not open come September.
In fact, just about every other jurisdiction in the country has released a plan for September. Some are detailed, some are frameworks, and some fall in between. Yet, here at home, we have heard nothing. There have been a few assurances sent out that a plan is in the works, and that the various stakeholders are at the table, but so far the public hasn’t been given much in the way of direction. In the wake of the release of a provincial Tory outline for what school should look like in September, pressure has mounted on the Grits to give Nova Scotians at least a glimpse of what is to come, but for some odd reason, Minister Churchill remains stoic in his determination to hold fast until the 11th hour.
I have to tell you, my spidey sense is starting to tingle. And not just about COVID.
As the return to school plans are ramping up, two of Canada’s largest educational entities are using this moment to advance a fairly nasty attack against public education. In Alberta, the United Conservative Party under Jason Kenney has recently made good on an election promise to open that province up to a more privatized version of public schools through the use of charter schools. Charter schools are set up by non-publicly controlled entities such as church groups or non-profits who then use taxpayer money to offer alternatives to public education. Invariably, they pull money away from public schools, and have long been promoted by groups who are committed to putting more money in the hands of the private sector as opposed to the public one.
Perhaps more concerning has been a recent move by the Doug Ford conservatives. Just last week, the Ontario Tories introduced what they are calling the COVID 19 Economic Recovery Act which doesn’t seem to have much to do with economic recovery at all. As a case in point, the legislation has two fairly major changes in regards to Ontario’s Education Act. The first change is an amendment which removes the requirement that directors of education must be qualified as teachers, opening the door for directors to be recruited from the private sector.
The second is that the government has now given itself the power to farm out the responsibility for online learning, which had previously belonged to an entity known as The Ontario Educational Communications Authority. The current language of the act says that one of the key responsibilities of this authority is “to establish and administer distance education programs”. Under the new language, the authority will instead be required to “support … distance education programs by or with prescribed persons or entities”. I would expect to see the contracting out process for online education to begin any day now, if it hasn’t already.
To be fair, the Liberal government has given no sign that they have anything similar to Ontario or Alberta in the works. McNeil is a bit far along in his mandate to be taking too many risks, and although certainly not above borrowing ideas from other jurisdictions, I’m not sure how happy his fan-base would be if the government were to be seen to be stealing ideas from the Tories. As well, I am on record as saying that I would much prefer the plan for September be conclusive rather than quick. As both a teacher and a parent, the safety of everyone in the buildings come September will be my primary concern.
However, as the days tick past, and as the government sits behind closed doors reviewing the submissions it received about the experiences Nova Scotians in regards to at home learning, my trepidation grows. We have, after all, seen this show before. More than once in recent memory, data gleaned from “For-our-eyes-only” government surveys have miraculously mirrored changes for which this government was pushing. As well, if you wish to understand the current operating definition of “authentic consultation”, find yourself an ex-school board member who was fired after being “authentically” consulted on the Glaze report. Remembering the breakneck speed with which those changes were implemented, I find myself wondering if our education system is in line for yet another political blitzkrieg come August 1st.
Considering this government’s track record, it will be interesting to see if it is the drafting of some dubious legislation, as opposed to, say, student safety, that is actually causing the hold up.