Latest news and Views: President’s Report (by David Cope), August 21, 2021
Welcome to our old/new website
The first bit of “news” in this update is that return visitors to this site might notice that we have been revamping it to be, well, up-to-date. I’d like to thank Jeannie Niokos at RCM for the extensive work in doing this. A few years ago, we dabbled with moving our online presence out of this OSSTF-housed location, but for a variety of reasons have come back to it, and, in a manner like moving hastily out of a house for many months and then returning, we are getting the place in order, cleaning and dusting, and getting some new furniture. All of this is to say that we hope the site will be of more use to our D34 members and for visitors who are simply curious about who we are.
For D34 members: There are plenty of opportunities for contributing to the content of this site. If you have ideas, please get in touch with your unit president.
Even in “normal” times, i.e., pre-Covid, there was a challenge in having such a diverse district (and a quite unique district in the federation): four different employers, and three very different kinds of structures and students (or clientele, if I can use that term). The pandemic conditions of the last year and a half generated even more challenges, in particular an outright impossibility of gathering in person for social or business purposes, something that has resulted in us deferring not only one, but two year-end AGMs. We all hope, of course, that better times are on the horizon, and the opportunity to gather.
Pandemic challenges since March 2020
It is difficult to think of any facet of life that has not been complicated or changed by the pandemic. For the health of our district, the most severe impact has been with ILSC and CES as schools that serve international students seeking to learn English in Canada; the shutting of borders has been an obvious problem, and members of those units have been impacted terribly. For RCM, there was the challenge of concerns about the heightened risk with music instruction in-person, and then there were different challenges of online music instruction in place of in-person. For UTS, the school in the district most similar to the education experience of public and private schools across the province, both elementary (for our grade 7 and 8 students) and secondary, the challenges have involved providing hybrid instruction (the combination of in-person and online, simultaneously) and how to manage the health protocols in the physical buildings (including our temporary location in the Queen and Ossington area, a retrofitted elementary school that had space limitations even before the pandemic). With the rest of the province, UTS also had long periods at the end of 2019-20 and portions of 2020-21 in a completely online environment.
Thus, all of our members have had to be resilient in significant, complex, and various ways, whether they have had to navigate the strain and worry of teaching in very different environments, or they have been in the position of their employer not being able to provide them employment. So many educators, students, and parents in our city, province, and across the world are weary (to say the least) of the pandemic, and we can only hope that the more positive developments over the last few months will continue.
Looking ahead politically: provincial election 2022
Our place in OSSTF as a district is a somewhat strange one because of how we are related to “public education.” ILSC, CES, and RCM provide education outside of the credit granting structures of the Ministry of Education, and UTS is an independent, credit-granting school that nevertheless has close ties historically and in the present to the University of Toronto and with the training of future educators. As a district, we stand firmly with the defense of public education in this province; our members’ support of the No Cuts to Education initiatives two years ago is emblematic of that.
Next year, we will face another provincial election. The position of OSSTF is very clear on this: another Doug Ford, Progressive Conservative government would result in further devastation to public education, a devastation that began well before the strain of the pandemic. OSSTF does not dictate how its members should vote. The reality is that consensus within OSSTF or our district is not possible: some will back the NDP, some will back the Liberal Party, some will back a Green candidate, some will take some other available option, and some might very well prefer the Progressive Conservative Party. What we are all asked to do is be thoughtful, concerned, and active in how we investigate the options, support responsible parties and leaders, and vote. Unit presidents will communicate various opportunities throughout the year for involvement.
The end, for now
There is much more that could be written here, in particular the struggles the federation has had over recent years with equity, diversity, inclusion, and various challenges of fair governance, and how there has been a troubling failure to manage concerns about these at the most recent three AMPA gatherings; there is also much that could be written our own district’s (and other districts’) thwarted attempts to push for firm and clear action on divestment from fossil fuels. But I will leave that for another time.
President, University of Toronto Schools OSSTF BU
President, District 34