To the government of Ontario,

What do you value in education?

If recent actions are any indication, it is not students, nor educators.

Ah, yes, the bottom line.

The other day, the Minister of Education went on the CBC and when asked if he thought people in education were taking sick days when they were not sick, he refused to answer simply yes or no. Instead, he stated that the reasons for high absenteeism needs to be investigated.

No need to investigate, Sherlock. I can tell you the reason.

If your government values consistency in the delivery of support to students in the classroom, you will rejig the ineffective, destructive funding model to schools. You will make money available and targeted for hiring (rehiring) staff including Educational/Teaching Assistants, teachers, Early Childhood Educators, speech and language, psychologists, and other specialists.

People are absent from work because they are sick, injured or mentally exhausted, not due to nefarious actions. Staff are being asked to accommodate and support a record number of students with a significantly lower number of staff.

And the reasons for absences are available for the government to see. Boards are required to have Absence Management Programs to ensure that staff are not abusing sick days. Within the context of these Programs, information is shared with the employer (the Boards) that means there is no expectation of privacy regarding employee’s mental and physical health.

So, if the government is unaware of why absenteeism is high and what needs to be done to fix it, they need only look at their own policies and the detrimental effects they have on staff and subsequently students.

Students have a right to be accommodate to ensure they can be successful. Reduced staffing numbers means fewer staff to support students and deal with differences in learning and behaviours. This can result in students acting out, lashing out, hurting staff and potentially negatively impacting their own and others abilities to be successful.

If your government feels that the best way to solve this is to reduce the percentage of pay that CUPE employees receive when they are on short term disability (from 90% to 60%), you are saying that you want to penalize employees who are very often hurt ON THE JOB for DOING THEIR JOB for taking days to recover FROM INJURIES RECEIVED ON THE JOB. You are saying to employees that it is now an expectation that they not only get hurt, but take a pay cut for that privilege.

And let’s not forget: whatever CUPE agrees to, you are setting the precedent for the whole education system in Ontario. Because whatever crap deal you serve up at one negotiation table is the only thing on the menus of every other negotiating table going forward.

So, send your Minister of Education back to school – have him show up and do the work for more than a five minute photo op, and he will see that your government has either created or perpetuated the incredibly poor work conditions that cause high absenteeism rates in schools across the province.

(And tell him to bring soap and water because we’re heading into cold and flu season and there’s nothing like 30+ snotty kindergarteners to make an educator sick and tired.)

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