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A session of perspectives: Sights and sounds from OISE’s latest webinar discussing Ontario’s school re-opening plan

August 10, 2019

By Perry King 

Watch: Education experts Annie Kidder, Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Dr. Ann Lopez, Dr. Mary Reid, and special guests discuss what's needed to ensure a high-quality learning environment this September.


With over 1,300 community members online, a panel that included OISE faculty, education experts and special guests convened to challenge Ontario’s plan to reopen schools this September.

The webinar, titled The Checkup: Are Ontario schools ready for reopening?, brought together voices from numerous perspectives. The Checkup, moderated by OISE Professor Charles Pascal, addressed the reopening plan within anti-racist frameworks, mental health supports, math curriculum supports and education policy in the Canadian context.

Special guests also saw a student, a director of education, a vice-principal, a parent, a teacher and an education journalist share their points of view.

OISE News presents to you the webinar, in full. But first, here’s a small sample of what each panellist and guest brought to the table.


Photo of Annie Kidder

Annie Kidder 
Executive Director and Founder, People for Education

“I think we have a national problem and until we start thinking of it that way, we’re not going to address what we need to address here. The UN yesterday or the day before, talked about a ‘generational catastrophe.’ And that is a real worry right now – particularly in terms of the inequity of people’s capacity to kind of deal with this situation.

“Right now, when we look across the country, everybody has the same worries, everybody's grappling with the same issues.

“We’ve dealt quite a lot with the economics but I don't think we've dealt with the human crisis which is that UN statement about – that generational catastrophe – and Canada is not immune to that. I think it’s especially easy for somebody like me white privilege sitting in Toronto to feel immune. But we have to remember that all of the people who live in Canada and understand the disproportionate impact this is having on some people.”

Photo of Ann Lopez

Dr. Ann E. Lopez 
Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, OISE

“It is very interesting now that we’re talking about schooling, because suddenly the world is realizing that schooling and education matters. All of the ways in which schooling has been presented in neoliberal ways, as something that doesn’t need to have public resources – as something that needs to be privatized – everyone is realizing the value of schooling and education. Maybe now’s the time to have the conversation around schooling and education as the social good and the public good that it should be.”

Photo of Kwame McKenzie

Dr. Kwame McKenzie
Professor, University of Toronto
Director of Health Equity, Centre of Addiction and Mental Health

“Early in the pandemic, we focused on flattening the curve. We didn't think so much about who was under the curve, and that was a mistake. We produced a one-size-fits-all pandemic response, which didn't properly focus on the people who most needed protection.

We developed public health economic plans for the whole population. But we didn't make sure they work for racialized groups in low income groups. And now we’ve got data from Toronto Public Health, that shows that racialized groups and low-income groups are six to nine times more likely to test positive to COVID than others.

“My worry is we're going to make the same mistake for schools. We know that schools need different plans and different levels of support. Some will need extra resources to make up for pre-COVID differences. Some of them will need extra resources because of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic.

And if we don't think strong about equity, we will make the same mistake that we’ve made in the rest of the pandemic response, which has been good but not great depending on who you are. “If we have a one size fits all school opening strategy, it will mean that the poor and low income and racialized groups – and all the people who work with them – are put at risk. It will lead to more deaths than there need to be. It will bring forth a second wave. And it will increase inequities in education.”

Photo of Mary Reid

Dr. Mary Reid
Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream
Program Coordinator, Master of Teaching in Elementary and Secondary Education, OISE

“Why does the government insist that we roll out a new math curriculum in the midst of a pandemic? This is not the time to roll out a new initiative. When a jurisdiction rolls out any new initiative cycle like a curriculum, it needs to surround teachers with supports of professional learning – that is effective, thorough, strategic.

A 45-minute webinar on the math curriculum is not going to do it. Otherwise there’s going to be frustration. There's going to be struggles there's going to be, you know, different interpretations. There's a lot of new content in this math curriculum and for teachers to engage in deep learning, they need to be part of professional learning – that’s evidence-based research that shows that curriculum implementation requires professional learning communities.

“I plead with this government to hold off on implementing a new math curriculum and just wait, release the curriculum, let teachers familiarize themselves with it, and wait until things get back to a little bit more to normal – because, right now, teachers are stressed, families are stressed and what’s on their mind is the health and safety and well-being of their children.”

Photo of Selina Ahitan  

Selina Ahitan 
Grade 11 student

"I wanted to bring the perspective of how students feel with the opening of schools and how inequitable it is for these students – and the worries that the students have. As a student. I know how hard how big the classrooms are and how hard it is for students keep their distance. When walking out of classes at the end of the day. We’re walking side-by-side – shoulders are touching and touching. I know we're short shortening class sizes for high schoolers, but for elementary schools, I don’t know how that’s going to work and I’m a little bit worried."

Photo of Caroline Alphonso  

Caroline Alphonso
Parent and education reporter, Globe and Mail

“One of the main points highlight in this conversation, which is quite important, is equity. And I think that for all you thought about remote learning and how it worked from March to June, one of the things that school boards did quite well was get resources, get equipment into kids hands, how it worked after that was a mixed bag as we know.

Now I'm looking at how kids return to school. We haven't heard much discussion about curriculum. In Prince Edward Island, in their reopening plan, there was a point made about revised curriculum to get kids up to speed. There is going to be wide differentiation. I haven’t seen anything around that and I'm wondering for the panelists, what should be done there?

“The other thing is we’re seeing a mini flight from public education. We’re hearing more about private school interests growing there. We’re hearing about these education pods, something that was developed in the United States where someone runs a pod with a few families, well to do families. What are we going to see as far as the equity piece goes, as far as curriculum goes? And do you foresee a flight from public education?"

Photo of Sean Monteith  

Sean Monteith
Parent, OISE alum and Director of Education for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

“When times are tough, and people are feeling anxiety … I’ve always felt that people look up, they look up for leadership and look up for decisions. And right now, our district – when it comes to their families and their children and staff – they're looking up. I don't have the luxury to express panic.

“I will tell you that there's been sleepless nights and there will continue to be sleepless nights, probably right through until what they call the second wave comes and then we'll have to go into another mode of operating. But that’s my reality. And so I compelled and implored my board of trustees and my senior team, that as unsettled as they may be, it is now incumbent on us to reassure our communities and our families that we’re going to do it best we can, with the limited, and I would even say in some ways lacking, resources.”

Photo of Umar Quereshi  

Umar Qureshi
OISE alum and Vice Principal, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

“I think that we’ll really be focused on health and safety. It’s going to be paramount – cleaning and washroom breaks and unstructured time versus structure time. But also, what is the professional aspects of managing and supporting teachers in the classroom? Instruction will look different and a lot of teachers I feel – and they’ve voiced concerns to me from our school system or friends or on Twitter – where they’re very close with the students. That all comes in terms of proximity and in terms of relationships.

“For example, something simple like a student has to go outside, their zipper’s stuck, we instantly jumped, we zip up their jacket and away you go. And now we’re going to have to coach them through – or somehow come up with some other strategy or innovation. This small thing, I feel might be a big thing in terms of just the relationship aspect with the students. We don't want to distance the child from us. At the same time, it’s going to be hard for us to not instinctively jump in.”

Photo of Jennifer Sylvester  

Jennifer Sylvester 
Parent and OISE PhD student

“Many of the concerns that have already been brought up in regard to the inequities for Black and Indigenous students. That’s what my main concern is, how prior to COVID happening, how large the gap was and now that gap is going to even be bigger, post COVID. There’s thoughts that I have as a parent and auntie and cousins of Indigenous students – either on reserve, off-reserve in urban settings or in small towns – that gap exists.

“As a parent who lives in downtown Toronto, and I have access to the high-speed internet, I’m actually very lucky. I was able to buy a computer for my son to sort of assist with the online learning. But that’s not the same for everybody.” 

Photo of Drorit Weiss  

Drorit Weiss 
OISE alum, math and physics teacher

“I’m a high school teacher and a parent. But I’m also a software engineer that worked in a variety of industries prior to being a teacher. So, having a tech background I’m a strong advocate of using an optimizing technology in the classroom. I wanted to first acknowledge how challenging this has been for everybody, students, teachers and administrators. But I also wanted to bring to this conversation, perhaps some optimism, but really where I hope to see the direction of education going technologically.

“Since I became a teacher, the way students consume and engage with information has really changed. And our current pre-pandemic education model has barely adapted to this. We've been in such a challenging situation that’s forced us to come up with a working model in such a short period of time. Obviously, there’s room for improvements.

And these models are going to have to be revisited time and time again until they’re perfected, especially in terms of all the equity issues that we've been talking about. But over time, every industry gets disrupted. And we've seen it with Uber and taxis. We've seen it with Netflix and entertainment, it's inevitable that education will also get disrupted in this way. So with COVID, we’ve seen the beginning of that change and I think I think it's really important that we become proactive and plan for it rather than being reactive the way we have been.”