In an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas calls Education Workers “the forgotten front-line heroes in our public school system.”
“They say teachers are the heart of a school. Education Workers are the very soul,” Thomas writes. “With professionalism, passion, and patience, they serve as lifelines for students in Ontario who need academic, behavioural, emotional and medical support.
“It’s time they get the recognition and support they so richly deserve.”
Here’s the full letter:
February 16, 2021
Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Hon. Stephen Lecce, Education Minister
Ministry of Education
5th Floor, 438 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M5G 2K8
Re: Education Workers: the forgotten front-line heroes in our schools
Dear Premier Ford and Minister Lecce,
I’m writing on behalf of a group of forgotten front-line heroes in our public school system: Education Workers.
I’m proud that my union represents 7,500 of these fine Ontarians. Their titles include, among others, Educational Assistants, Designated Early Childhood Educators, Communicative Disorder Assistant, Child Youth Workers, Clerical Workers, IT Specialists, Lunch Monitors, Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), and English as a Second Language (ESL).
It’s time they get the recognition and support they so richly deserve.
They say teachers are the heart of a school. Education Workers are the very soul.
With professionalism, passion, and patience, they serve as lifelines for students in Ontario who need academic, behavioural, emotional and medical support.
Walk a mile in these workers’ shoes and you’ll be amazed by all the good they do. They teach and support students with feeding, as well support students with their toileting and hygiene needs. They teach them to read their first stories or say their first words. They teach adults English as a Second Language and Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada. One student might need help getting into and out of their wheelchair, another might need social or emotional support after experiencing difficulties in their day.
It’s not easy work. These are sweet and innocent children, but many face huge physical, learning, emotional, and family challenges that can lead to everything from heartbreaking withdrawal to shocking outbursts of violence. Sometimes just moments apart, and most times without warning.
Education Workers know how vital their work is. And despite being paid less than half than the teachers they work beside, in mostly precarious casual or part-time positions, they show up to do their work every day because they care and because they know they make a difference to students and their families.
Even when all other school workers were granted the safety of working from home during the pandemic’s worst waves, Education Workers continued going into classrooms, putting their own health and safety on the line for their students.
There is just no other way. These students depend on structure, routine, and close physical contact – they simply cannot be taught through a computer screen. And even though many of these students are unable to use masks or observe social distancing, Education Workers have been right there with them – helping them through all the anxiety and uncertainty that the pandemic has brought.
There is nothing more touching and heartwarming than seeing one of these children give an Education Worker a grateful hug after being helped through a difficult moment. But who’s addressing the anxiety and uncertainty that these workers are feeling?
I can tell you that many feel forgotten and abandoned by the so-called “consultations” held by the Ministry of Education about the pandemic.
“Smoke and mirrors” is how one of my members described them — officials need to listen to Education Workers about enhanced safety measures that need to be implemented, including:
- Strict and standardized contact tracing protocols across the province: Education Workers often work in different schools. But the lack of consistent contact tracing means a greater risk of transmission to students, workers, families, and communities. After concerns were raised by OPSEU/SEFPO members, the Peel District School Board implemented a daily on-line reporting tool to support effective contact tracing for Educational Assistants. The Ministry of Education should act swiftly to standardize similar contact tracing in all school boards.
- Enhanced PPE availability: Some of our members have told us they need enhanced PPE because they are supporting vulnerable, mask-exempt students who require close contact for personal, behavioural, and medical support.
I’d also ask you to please keep an open mind about Bill 124, and ask yourself if these workers really deserve to have their already low pay capped for three years. There is a dramatic difference and inequity in one per cent of their salary compared to a teacher. It’s just not fair and rings contrary to looking out for “the little guy.”
Teachers have challenging jobs, and we respect the work they do, but they get paid twice as much as our Education sector members.
Most of our members are women trying to raise families of their own. Many of them have to work two or even three jobs just to make ends meet. Considering all they do for so many students, is it fair to take away their right to bargain a decent wage?
Premier and Minister, I’ve come to know how deeply you care about our front-line heroes, and I’m sure neither of you would want these courageous and caring professionals to feel forgotten and left behind.
Let’s change things together. Let’s do it now.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas