Déjà vu all over again – the government and the education sector, butting up against one another and the government whipping anger with a media frenzy (and way too many standing ovations). People working in education will be made out as money grabbing and our elected representatives will not only feed that negativity and misinformation, but they will do everything possible to come out as good leaders, stating it’s all for the greater economic good.

What a load of propaganda.

I know about fiscal restraint. I worked in special education for 15 years and was at the top of my pay grid and took home less than $35,000 a year. 

Yup. You read that right. 

Right now, RIGHT NOW, there is no talk about more/less money because we are not negotiating yet. 

Right now, RIGHT NOW, the protests are about the cuts, about the threats of cuts, about the pile of damage being created by decisions being made by the government. 

The government started on the wrong foot by cutting out curriculum development which would have increased Indigenous content – curriculum changes set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The debacle that is, was, and continues to be funding for children with autism is part of the protests. 

Increasing class sizes, having students take e-learning courses – and don’t even get me started about the health curriculum. 

The government says teachers are promoting dissention with students and using classroom bulletin boards as places of anti-government information sharing. 

If the term ‘fake news’ was not so overused, I’d use it here. 

There are so many issues to protest, but RIGHT NOW, salaries is not one of them. 

When it comes to fiscal restraint, the Ford government has not actually been practicing what they preach. 

Buck a beer? License plate redos? “Open for business” signage? Stickers to agitate against carbon tax?

And then there are the salaries of friends and associates in jobs that either didn’t previously exist or were at lower salaries previously: $348,000 to a health care advisor; $140,000 for a formerly part-time position as EQAO chair; $350,000 for a trade representative. And then there are folks who are in senior positions after being part of the Ford team in various capacities: Ontario Energy Board appointee, $197,000 and chair of Public Accountants Council for $166,666.

These inflated “dollars for supporters of Ford” would make an incredible difference in the lives of students in Ontario. Money that would allow for more speech and language support, autism intervenors (cause given new policies and money shuffling, we are definitely going to need more specialists), and specialized equipment within schools.

What about the senior students, those with learning needs who do not have the depth of programs they need to prepare them for the world beyond the education system? Their programs have been cut and their support diminished because special education has been underfunded for years. And years. And years, first by the Liberals, now by the current government.

Another way in which this government is failing is that they keep announcing funding as if it’s new – slapping a ‘new and improved’ label on already existing, lower than needed, funding. And people are being fooled into believing it, because they want to believe their vote for this government was the right one. 

Wrong. 

Special education students are capable and want to contribute in whatever way they can to society – but they need the foundations to do that and they need those programs to last through the end of their final year of school (and beyond).

I worked in special needs and behaviour from 2003 until 2018. I value the work of all the members of our education system, but special needs is what I know and therefore the reality of that work is what I can best speak to. Special education means working with the most vulnerable members of the system and of society – children with physical, intellectual and mental health issues. We are the people who, along with the teaching teams, deliver education to students who need more – perhaps it’s personal care, or curriculum support or behaviour management. Everyday, members of that employee group are faced with unimaginable stress and incredible types of successes.

Let me focus on the stress aspects: We feed students who cannot do it themselves. We change diapers, clothing and sanitary pads, often lifting students the size of grown men and women. We can be kicked, pinched, punched, scratched, spit on, urinated on, have feces or furniture or pretty much anything thrown at us. I have worn protective gear to minimize the chances of injury, which makes it harder to move around. In addition to this physical abuse, we also can be subjected to verbal abuse. Personally, I have had all of these things happen to me, including being hit so hard in the face that I fell to the ground. I have visited the emergency department of my local hospital on more than one occasion for myself, in addition to accompanying students with seizures and other medical conditions.

When you pull money out of the system, more of these tasks are put onto fewer workers. People think their child will have one on one support. 

Those days are long gone. Student supports are prioritized by categories such as safety and personal care, not by educational needs. 

The more money pulled out of the system, the less time front line workers and teachers have to teach students the skills which allow them to be successful, to not have levels of frustration that can cause them to act out in aggressive and violent ways – skills that allow ALL students to be included in schools and their communities in meaningful ways.

And that violence? It is experienced by all students and staff who are present when it occurs.

Appropriate funding needs to be in place in order to make school a place where students can learn and grow; it should not be about warehousing children and youth with special needs.

That is my greatest fear when I think about their future. 

And guess what? When I was dealing with out of control students, or otherwise doing my job, you know who was standing right next to me? The teaching staff. Early childhood educators. Other teaching assistants. My principal. All are at risk every day and they need to know that their government is behind them.

When the government make claims in the media that it’s about the money, they are right.

There is a component about being compensated for the work we do and for the injuries we sustain doing that work. 

That is not the issue RIGHT NOW. 

The bigger, RIGHT NOW issue is that people (students, staff, parents, Boards) are angry about the government not properly funding the education system.

I want to tell this government, as I tried to tell the last one, walk a mile in the shoes of those teachers and education workers you talk about in such negative ways. You would love aspects of your job. You would be exhausted and inspired.

And you would be devastated that your government undermines you both on a personal and on a professional level.

You would be more than devastated to see amazing students not get the chance to succeed because your government felt it was important to support personally motivated projects over supporting students. 

No matter how you spin it, this is the reality: the government has chosen other priorities in front of the future of Ontario. That future includes the children and the people who are educating and shaping them every single day.

For education workers, teachers, administrators, communities and families, RIGHT NOW AND ALWAYS  

IT IS ABOUT THE STUDENTS. 

 

 

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