It's not fair to blame school boards for societal inequity issues during COVID-19

To blame a single school division for our society’s short comings, especially when the state of education in Saskatchewan could best be described as stretched thin, is a deflection at best and denial at worst. 

Teachers are spending countless hours learning new ways to educate

To blame a single school division for our society's short comings is a deflection at best and denial at worst, says Jeremy Rigby.  (Kevin Mulcahy/Shutterstock )

This piece was written in response to an op-ed CBC Saskatchewan published on Thursday entitled Regina's COVID-19 education plan marginalizes children without proper access to remote tools.

Regina's plan for educating children during COVID-19, based on directives provided by the Ministry of Education, is inequitable. However, it is a fallacy to place the blame on the Regina Public Schools. 

As a teacher, I have been working diligently over the past week to scramble together some semblance of an educational program. Like many other teachers around the province I have been contacting parents, planning and discussing next steps. 

Superintendents and senior administrators in school divisions across the province have put in hours over the previous two weeks meeting with the government and conjuring a virtual education system out of extremely limited infrastructure.

In addition to calling home, teachers have been figuring out how they can support not just students but families, education aside. 

Teachers have also been spending countless hours learning new ways to teach, often spending every waking moment in front of their computer screens to ensure their students have the best possible education.

Crisis intensifies existing issues

In addition to teaching themselves, students and parents how to master the technology, educators are painfully aware of the inequity facing their students. 

How is my student going to eat without the school division providing food? Where is my student going to be staying? Is my student safe? 

These questions keep teachers up at night during regular school functioning. Now they are intensified by the crisis facing our society. 

Teachers and divisions understand how seriously disadvantaged many of our students are. It is a minor miracle — and the direct result of countless hours of hard work done by school divisions and teachers — that the majority of students in our province are able to have some form of education today. 

Roots of inequality run deep

The Seattle Public School Division has handed out free wifi and computers to create an equitable learning experience. While this is excellent, Seattle has had more time to establish its program and has launched an equitable learning fund, asking for donations from the public to fund the supports being put in place. 

While the current plan in Saskatchewan is indeed inequitable, it is incredibly short-sighted to suggest the Regina Public School Division is at fault. 

Differences in privilege and inequity are amplified during a time of crisis. Systemic racism, biases and privilege are strongly rooted within most, if not all, of our publicly funded systems. 

We need to come together during this exceptional time.- Jeremy Rigby

The roots of inequity, privilege, racism and bias have always existed, not just within the Saskatchewan education system, but within every education and healthcare system in Canada. They are intertwined with the fabric of our society. 

Every year teachers discuss how we can increase First Nation graduation rates, how to be culturally and gender responsive, and what kind of food programs we need to exist in our society. 

The Ministry of Education's only real logical choice once COVID-19 hit was to create a learning program that minimized the amplification of the systemic differences in our society by saying that grades don't matter for the rest of the year. 

To blame a single school division for our society's short comings, especially when the state of education in Saskatchewan could best be described as stretched thin, is a deflection at best and denial at worst. 

Come together

As a society, we need to look in the mirror.  We need to come together during this exceptional time. We need to acknowledge that there are massive flaws in our society being exposed during this crisis. 

Let's work together to end the systemic gaps in our province through honest conversation, not the blame game. We need all Saskatchewanians to support each other and try to patch the holes in our province's fabric that have been exposed. 

Teachers and school boards are doing the best with the cards that have been dealt to them. Now is the time for creative solutions not finger pointing. 

Perhaps an equitable education fund could be a place to start?

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Jeremy Rigby is a teacher in Saskatoon.