By Beyhan Farhadi

When the Raptors suspended their game on March 12, 2020, we knew the threat was serious. In the weeks ahead Ontario saw the first of a series of school closures, which was part of a broader public health response to the community spread of COVID-19 that brought society to a near standstill.

Our family counted time relative to the next school reopening, and the next, and the next, until we realized that our children who attend Charlottetown JPS were home indefinitely.

Tension accompanied school reopening. We were promised schools were safe, but this promise was belied by the reality that COVID-19 was impacting communities and groups differentially: racialized and lower income communities were experiencing this pandemic at a far higher rate than more affluent communities like ours in Centennial; immunocompromised people were unsafe; disabled and elderly people in long-term care were in crisis; and the burden of unpaid care was falling on women, who were often the parent supervising their children as they learned from home during rolling school closures throughout the 2020-2021 school year.

We are not in this together.

This year, families, teachers and students are starting to feel the impacts of two years of school disruption. Virtual schools, which are resource intensive, have collapsed. Many high school students and elementary students with the most intensive needs, those living with autism or physical, developmental or learning disabilities, are learning in a hybrid model of education where the teacher is split between virtual and in-person learners.

Opportunity gaps, driven by the social, political, and economic inequalities that have intensified since COVID-19 are growing and investments in public education are not keeping up. The consequences of underfunding public education have long been documented, inclusive of its impacts on economic opportunity, social mobility and health. This pandemic has taught us that if we do not think collectively and invest in public services, it will cost us. Will we apply its lessons?

Crisis management is a dynamic and chaotic process not just in the hands of elected officials, but also the public to whom they are accountable. And crisis presents both challenge and opportunity. As we look toward a future after a crisis, what values do we want to leave in the past and which do we want to take with us? What role do children play in strengthening the community? How much are they worth to care for and educate?

Budgets reveal priorities and they reflect collective values. We have a lot to be proud of but we have also left many behind, including our most vulnerable. It is a moral obligation to ensure we centre their needs in the decisions ahead of us. For those with privilege, we must spend it wisely.

Fighting the long fight for public education in crisis and beyond requires reflection on the democratic function of schooling, and its relation to economic and social structures that bring  opportunity. We all have some power to influence the collective agenda, and I hope one lesson we take from years of disruption is to harness that power to make positive change at all sites and scales, during and between elections.

Beyhan Farhadi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at York University, a secondary teacher, and parent to two children at Charlottetown JPS.