Education workers converge on Queen’s Park in their cars to demand more support for families

Education workers converged on Queen’s Park in their vehicles on Saturday, honking their horns and driving around the legislative grounds as part of a car caravan that demanded more pandemic support for families.

Ontario Education Workers United, a grassroots group that says it is determined to fight for a strong, publicly funded education system from kindergarten to Grade 12, organized the afternoon demonstration.

The group wants the province to provide financial help to parents, students and workers who will be struggling when public schools close as part of the provincial lockdown starting on Monday.

Dozens of vehicles, many painted with slogans, took part in the demonstration to call on the Doug Ford government to take action.

Melanie Wilson, a teacher at Bloor Collegiate in Toronto, said in a news release on Saturday that the school closures will hit low income, racialized families the hardest.

“The only way this lockdown will keep us all safe is if families and workers throughout the province get paid sick leave, easy to access rent and income support for caregivers, a ban on evictions, and status for all migrant workers,” Wilson said.

Rachel Huot, a member of the Ontario Parent Action Network, said in the release that financial help is crucial. The group say it is a network of concerned parents, guardians and grandparents that are organizing to fight the provincial government’s cuts to public education.

“While school closures are needed, without sufficient supports for parents and families it is a public health and education disaster,” Huot said.

“No parent should face losing their job, or not being able to pay rent or feed their family. 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.”

The group outlined its demands in a poster attached to the side of a car in the caravan. (CBC)

The groups noted that school closures will also mean significant layoffs for occasional teachers who are already some of the most precariously employed education workers. 

Among other things, the group is calling on the province to implement:

  • Immediate rent relief.
  • A ban on residential evictions.
  • Seven paid sick days for all workers, with 14 available during pandemics.

The group also wants the federal government to provide permanent immigration status for all migrant workers.

Laura McCoy, a middle-school teacher, said in the release that the lack of income and rent supports is increasing stress on families and that additional pressure makes online learning even harder for students already struggling during the pandemic. 

“Everyone in the education system is doing the best they can under incredibly stressful circumstances, and that’s why it’s outrageous that the Ford government isn’t doing everything they can,” she said. 

“Paid sick days and stopping all evictions is not only essential but easy for the government to do. They’ve done it before and our students and their families need them to do it again.”

Under the provincial lockdown in place to curb COVID-19 cases during the pandemic, elementary and secondary school students at publicly-funded schools will participate in remote learning from Jan. 4 to 8 this year.

In Toronto, elementary school students will return to in person learning on Jan. 11, while secondary school students will continue to learn remotely until Jan. 25 and resume in person learning on that date.

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