Education workers across the Greater Toronto Area are calling on the Ford government to provide financial relief to families who are expected to face challenges when schools close for three weeks beginning Monday.
Decorated caravans driven by teachers and parents circled Queen’s Park on Saturday. A group called Education Workers United organized the event and is demanding support for parents who they say have had to choose between paying their rent, feeding their family and following public health advice to stay home.
“They have no choice but to go to work sick,” said Toronto high school teacher Melanie Willson.
“(It) puts everyone in the province at risk, it keeps driving up the rates.”
With students set to learn from home for the next three weeks, participants of the rally want the province to provide paid sick leave, income support for caregivers, a ban on evictions and more.
“As teachers, we see our kids and their families struggling and we know that when the schools shut down, and people don’t have child care, and they have no leave or sick day provisions in their work, it becomes very difficult for them to manage,” said elementary school teacher Laura McCoy.
“So many of our families are in precarious work conditions, they would be in danger of losing their job, and for some people, losing their home.”
McCoy adds the stress that comes with lack of income and rent support is making online learning more difficult for students already struggling during the pandemic.
Teachers at the rally say public health measures are impacting low-income and racialized families the most, highlighting social inequities that existed prior to the pandemic and leading to heightened concerns for students’ education.
“In areas like Jane and Finch, Scarborough, Thorncliffe (Park), you’ve seen the inequities,” said Rachel Huot, a parent organizer with Ontario Parent Action Network.
“The burden that has been unfairly carried in this pandemic (has been) reflected in our schools.”
Willson says while teachers are doing “everything they can, being incredibly creative to deliver online learning, it still pales in comparison to the learning that takes place face-to-face in a classroom.”
Global News reached out to the ministries of labour, housing and education, who each provided statements concerning support measures put into place to address concerns, including rent repayment plans and sick leave.
However, questions remain for many when it comes to how they can access these supports.
The office of the minister of municipal affairs and housing says “we encourage those who are struggling to pay their rent to contact their local service manager to see what supports are available to them.”
The Ministry of Education says it is “squarely focused on keeping schools safe for students and staff, including by expanding testing.”