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Chair Responds to Union Presidents
UCDSB Chair Responds to Union and Federation Presidents
Posted on 11/02/2020
UCDSB Chair John McAllister

*This letter is in response to the open letter received on October 28, 2020 from local Union and Federation Presidents. A copy of this letter was provided to Union and Federation Presidents earlier today.

Dear Union and Federation Presidents from the Upper Canada District, 

I am responding on behalf of the Board of Trustees to your letter that we received on October 28, 2020.  First of all, we thank you for sharing your concerns about learning in the time of COVID-19. 

I also want to acknowledge the incredible, indeed heroic, efforts that our staff have been putting in this school year. We know they have the best interests of our students at heart. That is reflected in their professional, caring, and dedicated work each day.  That commitment is always valued, but even more so now as we all try to navigate a global health crisis that makes everything that is ‘usual’—including school—a truly unusual experience.

Like our staff, the Board has made sure to put the needs of our students first as we navigate this truly unprecedented school year. We have done everything possible to support students and to create a student-focused learning model that responds to the pandemic and provides families with the greatest possible choice and flexibility.

The learning model also focuses on the safety of our staff and students—a key priority.  At each stage of our work we have consulted and acted on the recommendations of our local Medical Officers of Health. That process continues. Your comment that the UCDSB’s learning model and reopening strategy does not respect physical health ignores that critical process, and undermines the hard work that happens in all of our buildings to keep staff and students safe each day.  Work done expertly by our classroom staff (your members) and our school district’s principals and vice-principals.

The learning model used in Upper Canada means that a teacher is able to stay connected with and support the learning of just those students on their class list who are, of course, the students they know best.  Skilled teachers and support staff are adept at the pedagogical practice of differentiated learning and this practice supports and enhances the connection within and among a class – and that supports positive mental health.

This was reinforced recently by our Student Senate.  They shared with the Board the positive impact of this model on their learning, their connection to others, and their positive mental state.

We know the learning model we are using is not perfect for all of our students, families or staff.  But these are not perfect or ideal times.  We are in the grip of a global pandemic—one that has an impact on each of us, and on every structure and process in society. Frankly, we need make the best of a bad, and hopefully short-term, situation. We need to offer students the best we can even if our best is not perfect.

Our model does that. And does so within the financial and operational realities that we must operate within. Realities defined by the limits of government funding and regulations.  To ignore those as a Board would be a violation of the trust placed in us by those we serve in the community.

That does not mean we accept those limits—quite the opposite.  We have sent three letters to the Minister of Education to highlight the immediate relief that more funding would deliver for our schools.  We continue to connect with our local MPPs and advocate for our students. It is not necessary for us to be reminded about the need to advocate publicly for the best possible education for our students—that is the number one job for our Board.

Each day we see extraordinary efforts by staff in schools to support our students.  It is awe-inspiring—and we so value that work.  In schools, supported by central staff, we see a level of teamwork that is amazing—an unwavering focus on how to best support students, and each other, as a team.

That’s why an ‘open letter’ that you directed to us is disappointing.  It does not reflect the spirit of cooperation we see in our schools. It does not represent the team approach our community expects to see in the face of a global health crisis.  It does not demonstrate an understanding of the realities of this pandemic and the impact on groups and on individuals.  It is neither helpful nor constructive. What we all need to do is to turn our collective attention to how we can improve our current model of learning in a pandemic. We should talk about that in a forum that is constructive, not in accusatory letters broadcasted to local media and on social media.  Our community expects, and deserves better.

That is part of what we find confusing about your recent letter. It professes to be about how we should work in collaboration with our unions and federations. Yet, the reality is we have multiple opportunities for our dialogue and the unions and federations have at times refused to be part of it over the past 8 weeks. For example, our staff have informed me that the UCDSB Initiatives Committee is designed for this kind of collaboration.  It is a place, beyond the weekly and sometimes daily interactions between senior staff and union leaders, where ideas and improvements can be discussed, and solutions can be found.

It is confounding why you would make a public pronouncement about how you “insist that these discussions happen and that improvements be implemented” when almost two weeks ago, several of you as local labour executives, are declining to attend the Initiative Committee meeting that could further enable that goal?

Your “open letter” of October 28th appears as a deliberate effort to be deceptive to the public and an effort to attract attention and media coverage. However, we hope that this is a misunderstanding.  To avoid any future misunderstandings, I’d like to be clear here: my letter to you is a formal invitation to continue meeting in all forums that labour and senior management have in place now, and those that have existed prior to the pandemic – all with the intent to help us improve our learning model.  For example, the UCDSB Initiatives Committee was created for exactly this kind of dialogue. 

The UCDSB truly appreciates and recognizes the heroic efforts of our teachers, educational assistants, office administrators, principals, vice-principals, custodians, support personnel and senior staff in this time of crisis. On behalf of the students, families, staff and taxpayers of the Upper Canada District School Board, we urge you to be present at the tables where key discussions take place in our school district, so we can provide collaboratively for the educational needs of all students.

Sincerely,

John McAllister,

Chair,

Upper Canada District School Board.

 

CC: UCDSB Board of Trustees; Senior Administration.

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