Every school day morning around 8 am, my partner or I drop off our four-year-old at daycare. He loves his daycare...we love his daycare. He then attends school in the same building as he learns, plays, eats and rests throughout his day. As we rarely finish work before 5pm, like many households, having reliable school-based daycare is the difference between us working full time jobs and having a well looked after, happy kid or not being able to participate in the workforce at all.
“Seamless Day” programs, as they are colloquially called, combine all-day classroom instruction with before and after-school care — a structure working parents and caregivers have come to rely on. In 2011, Ontario began a three year phase-in of all-day kindergarten along with before-and-after-school programs where there was sufficient demand for the service. The model paved the way for young children to experience child care within their school setting, sharing the same school classroom. This provided the opportunity for children to have familiar surroundings, with the same staff and classmates -- unlike previous models with a school day book-ended by child care, where children go back and forth between two distinct programs run by different adults.
But the current “seamless day” model is not without its faults.
In school boards across Ontario, before-and-after care program structures vary. Despite being mandated by the Wynne-led Ontario government, the program was not funded or fully-integrated into the public school system. Although they were required to offer the program, school boards were permitted to contract with third-party operators, mostly existing child care centres, to deliver the program. Parents were expected to pay full-cost, expensive fees that were beyond the reach of most families. And many gendered jobs in the sector remained poorly-paid, hard-to-fill, part-time positions. This was not the universal model envisioned or promised.
In the context of COVID-19, the fight for a fully-integrated, school-board-operated, seamless day, is essential. As the Province slowly opens up for business and school is set to resume, parents are scrambling to figure out what child care options are available to them - options that allow them to work while keeping their children and families as safe as possible.
The Provincial government, education officials and school boards should encourage return-to- school plans with ‘seamless day' programs and common “cohorts” to reduce the number of contacts a child has with different adults and children throughout the day. Coordinated planning between child care and schools would contribute to reducing exposure to COVID-19 infections and potential outbreaks.
In Toronto, the parts of the city that have been hit hardest by COVID are low-income, racialized and immigrant communities. These findings should encourage the provincial government to ensure that child care and back-to-school plans factor in this reality, and respond with the necessary capital and program investments to neighbourhoods hardest hit by the pandemic. Creating new, directly-delivered extended-day programs in schools in these priority areas could help mitigate the very real, and elevated risk these communities face.
A seamless day program, delivered by school boards, would also address the gendered, decent work gap in the child care sector. A fully-integrated model could replace fragmented, part-time employment with full-time unionized jobs with one employer. This model would also reduce precarious work in multiple workplaces -- the primary driver of COVID-19 outbreaks in long term care and other care settings across the country.
“In Toronto, working-class racialized and immigrant communities are hit hardest by COVID. Government plans must factor this and invest in limiting exposure to high-risk groups. ‘Seamless’ school-based childcare is one solution.”
The Elementary Teachers of Toronto, Canada’s largest teacher’s union, along with education unions across the country continue to demand smaller class sizes and physical distancing; cohorting requirements for teachers and education workers as well as students; ventilation standards with respect to COVID-19; busing standards with respect to COVID-19; and flexibility for school boards to reopen when health and safety standards have been met. Early childhood educators, school bus drivers, occasional teachers, lunch supervisors and other essential workers must be fairly compensated with decent pay and benefits for the important role they play in creating safe learning environments for our children and families during this period of uncertainty.
Without affordable, accessible daycare that is aligned with properly funded school environments this September, we will unfortunately continue to see needless suffering in communities around our province and country.
A safe return to school should mean a seamless day for our children and their families. My son and my family have had the wonderful experience of a seamless day and I continue to fight so that all children and parents - initially focussing in communities where BIPOC families are located - can experience the security and benefits it brings to every family.
The COVID pandemic has brought to light many of the inequities of our education and child care systems. No better time than the present to address the need for seamless day learning. There a variety of ways you can get involved and show your support for seamless days and other important improvement to our education and daycare systems:
Send a letter to your MPP: www.buildingbetterschools.ca
Sign a petition for smaller class sizes: https://www.change.org/p/ontario-demands-better-reduce-class-sizes-to-keep-schools-and-communities-safe
Check out the tools and actions provided by Ontario Education Workers United: OWEU
Join the Ontario Parent Action Network: linktr.ee/safeseptember
Join Fix Our Schools: fixourschools.ca
Education workers are encouraged to download our School action toolkit here: https://linktr.ee/oewu?fbclid=iwar0f5_cxc4h9tzi_da7mnv4vbe1q5pp_gj14poe39yddcaxgidrzpnar5bc
Nigel Barriffe is an executive officer with the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, President of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and organizer with Ontario Education Workers United. His efforts have been recognized through a number of community service awards including the 2011 Urban Heroes Award and the 2012 JS Woordsworth Award. He holds a Master’s degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Those with young and school-aged children are caught in an anxiety-inducing parent trap. Parents are having sleepless nights fearing for their jobs while also being worried about the health and well-being of their kids. But we argue that it shouldn’t be this way. Solving the Parent Trap is a policy series on transforming childcare and education featuring ideas from Janet Davis, Nigel Barriffe, Marit Stiles, Beyhan Fahardi, Maria Dobrinskaya and is edited by Katrina Miller and Brittany Andrew-Amofah.