Why have poor school conditions in Ontario not received more attention?

Disrepair in publicly funded schools is complicated. Through our work with Fix Our Schools, we have found that at every turn, stakeholders involved in this issue are reluctant to shine a light on disrepair in Ontario’s schools:

  • Parents don’t want to believe they drop their children off at a school that is in disrepair and so would rather focus on the great things happening in their children’s schools.  
  • Teachers don’t have time or the political will to be the “squeaky wheel” every time there is disrepair in their school that needs addressing. 
  • Principals and Superintendents don’t wish to highlight their school(s) as being in poor condition and risk unleashing a maelstrom of parent anger and frustration (many parents we speak to actually blame principals and caretakers for the disrepair they notice in their children’s schools, which is totally not the case at all!). 
  • Trustees and School Boards don’t want to risk “biting the hand that feeds them” so tend to be “careful” about naming the provincial government’s funding as the root cause of disrepair in schools.
  • Teachers Unions represent individual teacher health and safety concerns when teachers raise these issues. However, they have not focused on disrepair in schools and the impact on teacher working conditions as a key negotiation issue to date.
  • Media want photographs of schools in disrepair to illustrate in vivid detail how disrepair looks and create a newsworthy, sensational story. However, they are unable to get permission to access these schools because no principal wants to be the school featured (understandable!) and so media has not provided adequate coverage to this important issue.   

And so, disrepair in schools gets ignored again and again and continues to get worse – either because of lack of perspective, time, bandwidth, courage, interest, or political will.

So, collectively, we’ve all in some small way allowed the provincial government to continue to underfund school buildings over the past several decades. To fix our schools, we must come together to not only shine a light on this issue but to demand action on this issue from our provincial government. 

To make matters more complicated, much of the $15-billion of disrepair in schools is invisible to the naked eye. Structural concerns, repairs to fire alarm and suppression systems go unnoticed until they fail. You won’t know that the boiler at a school should have been replaced ten years ago until it stops working in February and school gets cancelled for a day! You won’t know that the fire alarm system was broken until … well – you get the idea. So much of the disrepair lurks beneath the surface and is impossible to illustrate, which means people don’t know about it and cannot shine a light on it. 

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Imagine if all children attended a school like…

2016_April 18_Photo of Frank Hayden new school in BurlingtonDr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario?

Built as part of a community complex, this high school opened its doors in September 2013. As one student wrote in a Burlington Gazette article, “I’m so jealous. I fell asleep in the middle of my math exam in June of 2012. Why did I fall asleep? No air conditioning. Well at Dr. Frank J. Hayden High School they won’t have that problem. They have air-conditioning and I’ve heard it’s absolutely gorgeous. The whole school is new; and new is spectacular!”

Indeed, new is spectacular! While not all Ontario students can attend brand new schools, all Ontario students ought to attend school buildings that are safe, well-maintained and that provide an environment conducive to learning. Let your MPP know that you expect their government to provide sufficient funding to all Ontario’s school boards to address the $15-billion of disrepair that currently exists in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

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Let’s fund schools as the critical infrastructure they are!

There is about $13-billion remaining to be spent by the federal government on infrastructure projects that qualify as part of the “New Building Canada Fund”, which was originally launched by the Conservatives. As highlighted in the April 25, 2016 Globe and Mail article entitled, “Liberals adding tourism, recreational works to infrastructure program”, projects such as hockey rinks and community centre repairs are now able to qualify. While this type of infrastructure spending is popular for communities, their long-term economic benefit is questionable – especially when compared to investments made in health care or education infrastructure.

According to Jamison Steeve, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, spending on health care, education and trade are the types of infrastructure that produce long-term gains in terms of high-paying jobs and increased productivity. Building a hockey rink, he said, only produces a short-term boost when looked at from a purely economic point of view.

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Asbestos in aging school buildings

On April 26, 2016, ETFO issued this press release:

Aging school buildings prompt the Elementary Teachers Federatino of Ontario (ETFO) to join call for national ban on asbestos

With asbestos in aging school buildings a leading health concern, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has added its voice to the call for a national ban on asbestos.

The call by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) for a ban on asbestos coincides with the April 28th National Day of Mourning, which commemorates workers who lost their lives or became sick or injured due to their work. Asbestos is the number one cause of occupational death in Canada, with more than 2,000 people dying every year from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Deaths from mesothelioma increased 60 per cent between 2000 and 2012 according to the CLC.

“We are concerned for our members, students and school communities as asbestos-containing materials such as ceiling tiles and pipe insulation can be present in aging school buildings within view and within reach,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “The intense activity in classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums can contribute to asbestos disturbance and put the school at risk.”

In 2014, the ETFO MOU Task Force on Health and Safety Report and Recommendations included a recommendation that the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education work with stakeholders to develop a provincial asbestos guidance document for school boards to manage and mitigate the risks of airborne asbestos exposure in schools. The Task Force report was developed by ETFO and the Ontario Public Supervisory Officers’ Association (OPSOA), with technical support from the Ministries of Education and Labour.

“It also makes practical sense for Ontario to develop a mandatory requirement for a public registry of asbestos in public buildings such as schools and hospitals,” added Hammond. Saskatchewan established such a registry in 2013.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario represents 78,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.

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Ceiling tiles collapsing in one Ontario school

From a Grade 7/8 Teacher in Ontario:

I’m sharing a couple of photos from the Ontario elementary school where I am a teacher. 

2016_April 20_Leaky Ceiling at QuestThe first photo shows a gap in the ceiling of our Common Area where the tiles became bloated and then collapsed over a year ago due to leaking after a heavy rain. 

The building roof has been patched in places, but this particular site continues to spring a leak whenever there’s significant rain. The last time this happened, a Grade 8 student matter-of-factly put out a bucket under the leak and then went about his business as though a leaky roof is to be expected in an Ontario school!

The second photo shows a similar gap in the Grade 8 classroom and lunch room. 2016_April 20_Leaky Ceiling Lunchroom at Quest

We also experience leaks in our kitchen and musical instrument storage, risking damage to expensive and much-needed equipment. Water-stained tiles throughout the school mark the legacy of a leaky roof. The roof has been patched repeatedly over the years, but the filthy tiles remain. 

Our wonderful, supportive parent council and Principal have tried to draw attention to this issue with the powers that be. Our teaching staff and students get on with their daily business with considerable good humour and aplomb. I think it is a shame that these are our working and learning conditions. We have great caretakers who do all they can just to maintain the day-to-day cleanliness of the classroom floors, hallways, stairwell and bathrooms.  

Parents, students and visitors frequently comment on the disrepair in our schools. They  wonder aloud about the possibility of mold, given all the evidence of longstanding water issues. It’s embarrassing and reflects poorly on our school! Some less informed folks have even made remarks that suggest that the fault lies with the teaching staff. This is unfair and hard on morale as we work hard to run a program that we can be proud of. 

The worst part is that in terms of our facility, I know that we are actually quite lucky compared to other schools I’ve visited. 

I hope these photos help shine a light on the issue of maintenance and crumbling infrastructure so that changes can be made to the funding formula and real improvements can be made to schools across our our province. 

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A 5-year leak in one Ontario school

2016_April 20_5 year leak at JackmanThe roof at this school has been leaking for well over five years. The bucket in this photo is a routine fixture at the school.

School conditions matter. They impact student achievement, the health of students and adults who learn and work in these buildings, and they impact attendance.

As voters and citizens, we must convince the provincial government to prioritize the issue of disrepair in Ontario’s schools. School boards have not been receiving close to sufficient money to ensure our schools are kept in a state of good repair. Let your local MPP know that school conditions matter to you!

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A picture is worth 1,000 words

Northern

2-million children attend publicly funded schools in Ontario. Many of these schools are crumbling and do not provide an optimum learning environment for children.

Please email Fix Our Schools photos of disrepair in your local schools. A picture is truly worth 1,000 words!

The first step in fixing a problem is Northern 3acknowledging there is a problem. Your photos will ensure that the problem of disrepair in schools is
acknowledged and help move us towards finding solutions to Fix Our Schools!

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What makes Premier Wynne take action?

On April 4, 2016, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne took quick action on a few fronts:

  • Premier Wynne also vowed to ban corporate and union donations, ending her government’s party’s practice of “cash-for-access” fundraising. Why? Because there there had been several weeks of consistent and embarrassing media coverage. Media had revealed how Wynne’s party frequently holds unpublicized, small-scale fundraisers in which corporations and lobbyists, some of whom do business with the government, pay thousands of dollars for exclusive access to Premier Wynne and her cabinet ministers over cocktails.

The lesson here? If we want to see our children’s schools fixed – we must mount more pressure on Kathleen Wynne and her government. How? We need more media attention on this topic and we must let our provincial MPPs know that we expect action on this issue.

What can you do? 

  • Send us photos of disrepair in schools – or videos! A picture is worth a 1,000 words.
  • Share personal stories about how disrepair in schools is negatively impacting your children.
  • Email or call your MPP to let them know you expect the provincial government to take action to Fix Our Schools.
  • Ask others to join Fix Our Schools, either by signing up for emails at www.fixourschools.ca/joinus/ and/or by following us on Facebook

 

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April 5, 2016 is Healthy Schools Day in Canada!

What is Healthy Schools Day?

Healthy Schools Day in Canada launched in 2009 by twelve national and provincial organizations. It gives citizens, students, teachers, organizations, school boards, and all Canadians, a specific time to focus on school buildings’ indoor environment quality to benefit the health and learning ability of our country’s school children, and protect the health of workers in Canadian schools.

CASLE (Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment) has been doing amazing work, predominantly on the east coast in Canada, for 25 years to ensure safe, healthy schools. This organization continues to coordinate Healthy Schools Day in Canada.

Why is a National Healthy Schools Day Important? 

  • Many schools have problems linked to indoor air quality.
  • Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards.
  • Children spend an average of 30 to 50 hours per week in school.
  • Staff spend even more time in their school workplaces.
  • Poor indoor environmental quality is associated with a wide rage of problems that include respiratory illnesses and poor concentration leading to poor learning. Athletes need clean air in order to achieve their best and so do students!
  • Asthma studies show up to 13% and in some areas 17% of school age children have asthma, the leading cause of school absenteeism, accounting for thousands of missed school days each year, and high costs to the medical system.
  • There is no longer any doubt. Many studies have found positive health impacts from improved indoor air quality.
  • Children attending schools in good condition score 5 to 10 percent higher on standardized tests than students who attend schools in poor condition.
  • Studies show that resources put into improving indoor environment quality have a rapid pay back.
  • Our Country’s school boards commonly make very difficult decisions between cutting back much-needed academic programs vs. cutting back on needed building maintenance.
  • Healthy new and existing schools provide cleaner air, improved lighting, and reduced exposures to toxic substances, and provide a healthier and safer learning environment for children, and improved academic achievement and well-being.
  • Federal and provincial governments have demonstrated interest in this important issue by developing programs like the Tools for Schools IAQ Action Kit, creating data, information and conferences on school IAQ; and are working to provide healthier schools every day. Use the Kit in your school!
  • Our schools have the great responsibility of guiding the future of our children.  Our children are our country’s greatest resource.

 

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