JUST RECOVERY SIMCOE
The Ontario government’s plan for the return to school this September fails to protect our children from the risk of catching COVID-19.
While there is some debate around varying rates of transmission between children in elementary school and youth in secondary school, there is a clear distinction in this plan between those who are able to stay at home unsupervised (secondary school students) and those for whom care or supervision is required (elementary school students).
The government plans for a full resumption of elementary school, which means class sizes remain the same, with little to no room for the necessary measures of increased physical distancing. The government, doubling down on the return to the status quo, goes so far as to state, “all elementary schools in the province will open for conventional in-person delivery of teaching and instruction, five days a week.” (Emphasis added.)
The intention of this plan, it seems, is to drive people back to work, and accordingly childcare, in the form of schools, must be arranged for those who require supervision.
And so, we find ourselves with a plan that is putting our kids in danger, prioritizing the needs of businesses over the health and wellbeing of children.
While the government states that families will be able to “opt out of in-person delivery”, this is not an option for most. Only parents who can afford to stay home or to hire someone to care for their children can make this choice. As such, this plan is inherently unfair and, again, as with the grocery store workers and the personal support works, a disproportionate share of the burden of this pandemic is placed on those who earn the least.
Further, for those families determined to opt out, the onus of care is likely to fall on women.
As the economist Armine Yalnizyan notes, there will be no recovery without a “she-covery,” without, in other words, the ability of women to fully participate in the economy. Already, women in business have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with a 45% higher layoff rate than others.
This plan offers no solution, only an impossible choice between the health of one’s child and returning to business-as-usual.
There are, however, solutions that can support a re-opening of the economy, while also contributing to healthy and happy families and forming the basis of a just recovery.
Supporting families by reducing the work week to four days, which has also been shown to actually increase productivity, can provide parents with additional time to care for their children. This would allow for a school schedule that sees classes return at half their size, so that physical distancing is more possible, with the half-class alternating for in-person instruction with the other half of the class, and then accessing online learning for the remainder of the week.
Implementing wage supports, such as a well designed basic income program that protects public services, along with increasing the minimum wage and legislating paid sick leave, in conjunction with this reduction of the work week, would further support parents to care for their children and provide for their families.
The additional income would balance out the loss of a work day, and is returned to the economy, generating demand for goods and services. This could be paid for by closing tax loopholes that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to store money offshore, as well as implementing a progressive tax regime that puts money back into the economy and to work for the public good.
Investing in our schools to increase capacity and to allow for more physical distancing is necessary too. We know that a second wave is likely, and that this wave will be hitting soon after our children return to school.
The risk of this time is compounded by the fact that it is also flu season, and by the fact that parents will, if the plan is implemented as currently proposed, be returning to work.
All of these additional vectors increase the risk of transmission. Investing in our education system now to increase capacity to deal with this fluid dynamic is crucial, but this seems to have been largely left out of the plan.
A just recovery puts the health and wellbeing of people, and especially children, first. This means that we address the climate crisis that will profoundly affect future generations, that we address social and economic inequalities, that we find balance between the time we spend working and the time that we spend with those we love and care for. After all, shouldn’t this be the purpose of our economy?
To learn more about the Just Recovery Simcoe initiative, and find ways to participate, visit https://justrecoverysimcoe.ca.
For further reading on how recovery efforts, including the re-opening of schools, can best support families, visit https://bit.ly/femeconrecovery