I have tried to refrain from becoming involved further in the mishandling of the school situation in the pandemic but today two actions have infuriated me in the way we are treating children. The first is the announcement from the PHO that we had 658 cases among children aged 5-11 last week but no further mitigation was taken. Clearly, the only metric of concern to the PHO is hospitalizations and in particular ICU beds. Since most children do not require hospitalization, it matters not to our politicians and the PHO how many children suffer the miseries of Covid. We have abandoned our most vulnerable little ones!
The second were pictures posted by a North Shore District that showed an entire secondary school staff spending their most recent professional day learning how to weave cedar baskets! Is this how our school system’s leadership believes teachers should be spending a day intended for professional development? Are there not far greater needs in lesson development and meeting our children’s needs upon which teachers could focus their time? Have we gone mad! Where have our schools’ leaders, both Trustees and Superintendents been for the last two years?
While the pandemic has clearly placed the school system into a crisis, our leadership has completely missed the opportunities that resulted from this crisis. The first opportunity was the opportunity to take charge within the district to provide the safest schools possible for our children. The masking situation is the most obvious example of an opportunity lost. It was clear that masks helped prevent the spread of the virus but in the last school year it took parent pressure to get even a limited mask mandate in schools. School district leadership even let a school principal be bullied by the PHO after he attempted to implement a mask mandate. Our Trustees and Superintendents abrogated their responsibility to keep children safe. They also lost a teachable moment. Mandating masks throughout the system was an opportunity to teach all children, including the youngest, that we all have a responsibility to protect our friends, our families and society in general. This September the PHO again refused to mandate masks in the primary grades and again the Trustees and Superintendents refused to step up. Now we have an unacceptable spread of Covid among our youngest school children. Only yesterday, again after parent pressure, did the VSB finally mandate masks for these children. Perhaps this will awaken our leaders in the rest of the province because we all know that the PHO’s history is to ignore the precautionary principle.
The basket weaving exercise also demonstrates an opportunity lost. For two years I have pointed to the schools’ role in the spread of the virus. Our PHO has always denied that the virus spreads within the school but the current spread among the primary children belies that position. There are many children who are compromised and should not be exposed to schools that put their health at risk. There are others who have difficulty dealing with the learning situation provided in their district and need an alternative for the best opportunity to succeed. The pandemic offered the opportunity to develop alternatives for these and other children but instead of learning how to use such alternatives effectively, leadership requires teachers spend their time basket weaving.
Why have we stopped the remote learning opportunities that children could access in the last school year? The pandemic has clearly raised the need to have alternatives to in-class learning for children at all levels. Moreover, technology properly used can enhance learning both remotely and within the classroom. Surely using professional days to focus on more effective ways to implement the use of the very technology students will use to enhance future learning would be a more worthwhile exercise than basket weaving! We should be developing a repository of digital learning resources that every teacher can access to assist their lesson delivery but instead the provincial education officials have ignored the very opportunities that our current crisis has created. They have not only failed to provide the resources to make classrooms safe but also ignored the opportunity to move the system forward and provide real alternative learning opportunities for the children.
However, the most crucial opportunity lost is not failing to mandate masks or failing to advance learning alternatives such as remote learning. The most critical opportunity we lost was the opportunity to step up and offer real leadership to the community. School district leaders refused to inform their customers, the parents, about the exposures that happened in schools. Instead, parents relied on two dedicated mothers who created a way to track exposures and who worked tirelessly to maintain this database. Today, parents at Capilano Elementary have sounded the alarm about the false information they are receiving from the PHO. Still our district leaders refuse to inform their parents and community of the real spread occurring in schools such as Capilano. They refuse to step up and mandate masks when all the evidence points to such a mandate being an effective measure. These leaders just sit back and take no action while primary children catch Covid in record numbers and suffer unnecessarily. This abrogation of their fundamental responsibility speaks to the need for radical change in the governance model of our school system. School Boards remain a 100-year-old outdated model for running schools and Superintendents have been complicit in endangering our children. This pandemic crisis gave these leaders an exceptional opportunity to lead. They can only be given an ‘F’ grade.
Our school district leaders have viewed this pandemic as a crisis instead of an opportunity and now our youngest school children are paying the consequences of our inaction. It is past time for our Trustees and Superintendents to STEP UP and LEAD!