Ontario Education Workers United staged a “car caravan” demonstration at Queen’s Park to demand that the Province bring about more equitable pandemic strategies Saturday afternoon.
The demonstration, consisting of around two dozen vehicles, organized by the association along with the Ontario Parent Action Network, focused on the condition of students and their communities, particularly those students who are racialized or live in low income neighbourhoods.
“We are calling for pandemic strategies that are based on equity,” organizer Melanie Willson, who a OEWU member and highschool teacher at Bloor Collegiate Institute, said. “We have seen COVID-19 case numbers being low in predominantly white upper-middle class neighbourhoods, while racialized neighbourhoods which are often low-income, have seen higher case numbers throughout the pandemic.”
Willson also expressed dissatisfaction at the wide-range of households eligible for the government’s latest measure of providing $ 200 a student, even to homes who don’t need the help.
“This relief can be availed by any family, even those whose net-income is above $ 100k a year. That money should be going to those whose lives are most at risk, who are facing evictions.”
Ontario’s Landlord Tenant Board has also lifted the moratorium on evictions earlier last summer, and have since been rapidly processing evictions, “rendering students homeless,” Willson added.
Rachel Huot, a member of Ontario Parent Action Network, says the current situation with few supports for families is a “health and education disaster.”
“No parent should face losing their job, or not being able to pay rent or feed their family,” she added. “Closing schools without giving every parent the sick-leave and caregiver protections they need is a direct attack on the very workers and families working so hard to keep us all safe.”
Among the other demands of the group were:
- The asymptomatic testing pilot project at three schools, which uncovered widespread spread of the virus, should be scaled up once in-person classes resume, as many cases are going undetected.
- Families of students who do not have permanent residency status, and have the least access to income support, should be given status. They are the ones who are most fearful of taking a sick day and staying at home, says Willson, for fear of job loss and possbile eviction from their homes.
- Once physical classes resume, students from low-income and racialized neighbourhoods with severe COVID-19 outbreaks are less likely to go back to in-person classes, due to fear of contracting the infection, says Willson. The union group called on the province to provide more robust support to students in these communities, in the form of better technological equipment and internet connections, to facilitate an equitable learning environment.