The pro­vin­ce needs to reco­gni­ze that the­se small com­mu­ni­ty-orien­ted scho­ols offer fle­xi­ble lear­ning path­ways for many diver­se families
Joan­na DeJong VanHof
Rese­ar­cher
Car­dus

Recent con­tro­ver­sy over the pro­vin­cial government’s pro­vi­sion of rapid tests to inde­pen­dent (pri­va­te) scho­ols but not public scho­ols stems from the fact that inde­pen­dent scho­ols in Onta­rio exist in a poli­cy no-man’s‑land.

If edu­ca­tion poli­cy thro­ugho­ut the pan­de­mic has pro­ved any­thing, it’s that the pro­vin­cial govern­ment doesn’t have the fra­me­work to make ade­qu­ate pro­vi­sions for both public and inde­pen­dent scho­ols, and does a dis­se­rvi­ce to all by igno­ring the­ir dif­fe­rent realities.

To reopen in Sep­tem­ber 2020, pri­va­te scho­ols had two options: use the busi­ness reope­ning fra­me­work or the public scho­ol reope­ning fra­me­work. They couldn’t blend the two.

The province’s cho­ice to under­stand inde­pen­dent scho­ols as busi­nesses rather than scho­ols sets the sta­ge for the cur­rent misconceptions. 

Inde­pen­dent scho­ols that acces­sed govern­ment fun­ding ava­ila­ble for busi­nesses to sup­port the­ir employ­ees with rapid tests are now having that fun­ding cut off. That’s a result of the government’s sen­si­ti­vi­ty aro­und the per­cep­tion that public funds are going to inde­pen­dent scho­ols but not to public ones.

In truth, the situ­ation is much more com­plex. Onta­rio denied inde­pen­dent scho­ols the fede­ral fun­ding made ava­ila­ble to sup­port per­so­nal pro­tec­ti­ve equ­ip­ment (PPE) for all stu­dents and staff; thro­ugho­ut the pan­de­mic, inde­pen­dent scho­ols have had to fund the­ir own PPE.

Now, inde­pen­dent scho­ols that legi­ti­ma­te­ly acces­sed funds as busi­nesses are being pena­li­zed main­ly becau­se our col­lec­ti­ve under­stan­ding of this scho­ol sec­tor is ane­mic and con­si­sts lar­ge­ly of con­cepts of a rich bour­ge­oisie exer­ci­sing its social capi­tal to gain access to the best reso­ur­ces at top tier schools.

Sure, the­re are weal­thy fami­lies who will expect the best in safe­ty measu­res at the scho­ols they’ve paid dear­ly to have the­ir chil­dren attend. But the­re are more than 1,500 inde­pen­dent scho­ols in Onta­rio and very few of them are top-tier scho­ols with hefty tuition pri­ce tags.

The vast majo­ri­ty of inde­pen­dent scho­ols in Onta­rio are small, com­mu­ni­ty-orien­ted scho­ols that serve spe­ci­fic, some­ti­mes mar­gi­na­li­zed popu­la­tions, often of stu­dents who­se diver­se needs are not met within a behe­moth public sys­tem weighed down by bure­au­cra­cy and she­er size.

The­re are micro-scho­ols, natu­re scho­ols, Mon­tes­so­ri scho­ols and Reg­gio-Emi­lia scho­ols. The­re are Sikh and Khal­sa scho­ols, Isla­mic scho­ols, Chri­stian scho­ols, and Jewish scho­ols. The­re are clas­si­cal scho­ols, arts, sports and STEM scho­ols, and scho­ols that serve French, Rus­sian, Chi­ne­se, Gre­ek or other cul­tu­ral com­mu­ni­ties, and which pro­vi­de alter­na­te lan­gu­age learning.

The­re are alter­na­te high scho­ol cre­dit options, scho­ols that serve inter­na­tio­nal stu­dents and new Cana­dians, and scho­ols that serve stu­dents with lear­ning or beha­vio­ural excep­tio­na­li­ties, men­tal health chal­len­ges and neu­ro­di­ver­gent lear­ning styles.

Sho­uld parents who have cho­sen an alter­na­te edu­ca­tion path­way for the­ir auti­stic child, for whom fun­ding has alre­ady been signi­fi­can­tly over­hau­led by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment, have been exc­lu­ded from the sup­port for PPE that was made ava­ila­ble to public schools?

Keep an Eye on Ontario

Sho­uld stu­dents who­se parents alre­ady make finan­cial sacri­fi­ces to have them edu­ca­ted within a com­mu­ni­ty of sha­red reli­gio­us valu­es or cul­tu­ral iden­ti­ty be con­si­de­red less wor­thy of the fun­ding pro­mi­sed for the safe­ty of all stu­dents in Ontario?

When can we have the conver­sa­tion that a pro­vin­ce as diver­se as Onta­rio will never have a sin­gle public scho­ol sys­tem that can ade­qu­ate­ly meet the bro­ad needs of all of its families?
The pre­va­iling nar­ra­ti­ve that inde­pen­dent scho­ols are for the rich and eli­te and serve only to fur­ther stra­ti­fy and divi­de Ontario’s popu­la­tion is ane­mic, short-sigh­ted and igno­rant of the truth.

Inde­pen­dent scho­ols offer a public servi­ce by edu­ca­ting a diver­si­ty of stu­dents in spe­ci­fic, meaning­ful ways toward public con­tri­bu­tion and respon­si­ble citizenship.

The cur­rent no-man’s‑land in which the­se diver­se scho­ols exist has led only to con­fu­sion. Onta­rio needs a bet­ter poli­cy fra­me­work to inc­lu­de inde­pen­dent scho­ols within its land­sca­pe. Then the pro­vin­ce needs to reco­gni­ze that the­se small com­mu­ni­ty-orien­ted scho­ols offer an alter­na­te, fle­xi­ble lear­ning path­way for many of its diver­se families.

Final­ly, it sho­uld begin to build a sha­red conver­sa­tion in which public and inde­pen­dent scho­ols can learn from one ano­ther in servi­ce to a com­mon goal of excel­lent edu­ca­tion for each of Ontario’s children.

Joan­na DeJong Van­Hof holds a master’s degree in Edu­ca­tion Leader­ship and Poli­cy from the Onta­rio Insti­tu­te for Stu­dies in Edu­ca­tion and works as a rese­ar­cher at the think-tank Cardus.

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