It is not an easy time to be working in the education sector.

With a return to school, we are asking these people to safely plan to take care of our children in a fundamentally unsafe scenario. We are asking our educators to risk their health and safety to take this on, much like we did our health care workers when the pandemic began. The difference is, this is not something educators signed up for when they started their careers.

With that in mind, we need to be kind and celebrate our education workers in the months to come, just as much as we did our health care professionals when the pandemic began.

The provincial government’s back-to-school planning is facing a lot of justified criticism about class sizes. Education unions have filed a labour board complaint that the province is violating workplace safety laws. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton compared school openings to the successful ones at retailers, grocery stores, construction sites and more, but none of those spaces equate to having 20-plus children in a room for hours on end. But our local teachers and boards can only deal with the hand they have been dealt in this case. They cannot necessarily openly criticize the provincial plan if they want to, though Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) trustees have made their umbrage with parts of it known.

Online learning is an option for students, but not necessarily for educators, with only so many online spots to go around. Getting online schools running well will also certainly be a challenge and it remains to be seen how well they will work over a full year.

So, our local educators must make the best of what is frankly a bad situation. In many respects, they have done that, with clear plans and regular updates across the board. Mandating masks for younger grades was also a strong step for safety. Teachers and administrators are hard at work planning, regardless of any anxieties they have.

There have undoubtedly been hiccups. It would have been nice for the expanded mask mandate to come before parents made their decisions on online versus in-person learning. A switch from taking two credits at once to one at secondary schools in late August was positive for safety but probably led to some confusion. Details on plans are coming much later than ideal given how close we are to opening, though the provincial rollout is more at fault for that.

But I am willing to give administrators and teachers a lot of leeway given this difficult situation, especially considering the risks we are asking them to take. To get parents back to work, we are asking educators to take greater risks to their health than most other occupations. We are tasking elementary educators to figure out how to teach while enforcing social distancing with young children and asking secondary educators to navigate radically different scheduling.

So, let us cheer our educators on as they face these challenges for our sake. We may not agree about the quality of the back-to-school plans, but regardless, educators deserve a lot of credit for the courage they are showing.

Kudos to them and let us all hope back-to-school unfolds as well as it possibly can.

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