Open letter to MPP John Yakabuski about education in Renfrew County

Christian Sell, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation District 28, delivered more than 100 signed letters from union members to Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski's office Nov. 14 when teachers, education workers and supporters rallied outside the Isabella Street office to send a message that education cuts must stop. Tina Peplinskie / Pembroke Observer and News

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I recently noticed your ad in a local newspaper wishing us a Happy New Year and also asking if you could help. The answer from any of your constituents concerned about the direction your government is taking with respect to education is YES.

How might you help? As a cabinet minister here in Ontario, you can help by taking the message to the Ontario government that schools within your riding are already struggling to meet the needs of every student in Renfrew County, especially those in the smallest schools in our district and our most vulnerable students. If the government’s plan to increase the average class size to 28 were to be realized, our most vulnerable students are the ones that are going to suffer the most. It would mean 25 per cent of the caring adults in our schools would no longer be there to support the students who need them the most.

In Pembroke (Fellowes) it would mean about 11 fewer teachers (66 fewer course offerings), in Arnprior it would mean 10 fewer teachers (60 fewer course offerings), in each of Renfrew (RCI), Opeongo, and Petawawa it would mean roughly seven fewer teachers (42 fewer course offerings), in Barry’s Bay it would mean about six fewer teachers (36 fewer course offerings), and in Deep River it would mean four fewer teachers (24 fewer course offerings).

In this current school year, the average class size increased to 22.5 from 22, and the number of difficult decisions that had to be made at the expense of our kids was troubling. It meant some classes had to be cut, some had to be combined, some had to be offered by e-learning (more about that later). Each of these decisions did not make education better for our kids here in Renfrew County. Any greater increase in class size, would only multiply the number of cuts that were already made for this current school year. (Education Minister Lecce’s suggestion that 25 to 1 is a decrease is a false statement, 25 to 1 would multiply the number of cuts already made for this school year by a factor of six). You are our representative in the Ontario legislature and we need you to be our voice. You can help on this issue!

You can help by demanding that mandatory e-learning for all students be quashed, as it will most definitely cause graduation rates to fall, both in Renfrew County and across the province. Locally, e-learning has been a platform that many of our university-bound students are already accessing to gain the prerequisites necessary for the programs they hope to take at the post-secondary level. Our students in Renfrew County, and again in our smallest schools especially, already have to take a disproportionate number of e-learning courses compared to those students of bigger, urban areas. Of those students doing e-learning in our district, most would tell you that doing classes online is nothing like having a face-to-face teacher delivering the course. E-learning is anything but optimal for our top students and would be impossible for many struggling students in our system.

To make e-learning mandatory would block access to a high school diploma for some of our students (again the most vulnerable). Firstly, internet, let alone high-speed internet, is not accessible to every student in Renfrew County, for some it is because of a lack of infrastructure, for others it is because of the sheer cost of internet. How can the government mandate a platform that all students cannot access equally? Secondly, the supports that many of our most vulnerable students need in a regular classroom to be successful would not be available, nor be accessible, through an e-learning platform. If e-learning were to be mandatory for all students, those captured in the groups listed above simply would not be able to graduate.

For myself these two issues alone in education, class size and mandatory e-learning, are the ones YOU CAN HELP us solve moving forward.

Christian Sell

OSSTF District 28 president for Renfrew County