As schools reopen next month, a majority of Canadian parents are worried about sending their children back. This fear is especially prevalent in Ontario, where many are choosing not to do it at all: Up to a quarter of families hope to keep their kids at home, according to surveys by several provincial school boards.
One Ontario mother of two has captured the dread parents are feeling right now in a short comic about the public education system. Artist Sarah Lazarovic released “They Came To Fail” on Tuesday, a brutally relatable and graphic self-portrait of how she currently feels about sending her kids back in September.
It starts with the artist painting a heart-breaking, but funny picture of the state of many public schools pre-pandemic: Reliant on outdated infrastructure and the ingenuity of under-supported teachers.
In one panel, she shows how teachers have previously made do with so little available, including turning their ancient school’s gymnasium into a cafeteria so students could eat lunch. A miracle, she called it, but one borne out of unfortunate necessity.
The comic then goes on to criticize the Ontario government’s school reopening plan, arguing that it fails to take into account the already chronic underfunding and meagre resources teachers are dealing with.
Lazarovic told HuffPost Canada that she was inspired to draw the comic after tuning into provincial press conferences and witnessing the “ongoing ineptitude” of officials.
“The worst is the obfuscation, the spin of blaming unions. Is that really helpful? The start date is just inching closer,” she said. “Are we all going to be sending our kids to classes with 30 others and not enough protections for the teachers?”
She worries that teachers, who are already spread thin, won’t be able to safely teach in poorly ventilated conditions. Even the makeshift gym-turned-cafeteria at her kids’ school, she pointed out, has long been overdue for hand-washing sinks.
Her comic doesn’t hold back from lambasting the government — one panel shows certain Ontario politicians silhouetted with devil horns.
“Each useless press conference seems almost comically calculated to impress upon us this ministry’s evil,” its caption reads.
“Incompetent and possibly nefarious provincial leadership has only made it worse,” another says. Check out her newsletter to read the full comic.
Why are Ontario parents so afraid?
For a lot of concerned families, their worries are directly tied to the Ontario government’s back-to-school plans, which appear to contradict common COVID-19 safety guidance like reducing class sizes ― a decision which is believed to cost only $20 million to implement. Critics and teachers’ unions have called the plan “severely underfunded” and claim it will put schools and their neighbouring communities in “significant and imminent danger.”
Many parents may not have the privilege of keeping their kids at home, as homeschooling isn’t an affordable option for many parents, especially working moms who are already strapped for time.
“After I put my kids to bed, I make lunch at 10 p.m. at night because, you know, that’s the only time I have,” Lazarovic said.
Women, she pointed out, are especially short-changed, as they bear the brunt of performing most of the pandemic’s unpaid care labour: seven out of 10 Canadian women report having mental health problems related to this workload.
Getting priced out of homeschooling, as well as the importance of showing politicians that public schools are worth supporting, are reasons Lazarovic says she and many others are strongly leaning towards sending their children back-to-school.
But on the flip side, sending kids into a potentially dangerous environment is difficult for any parent. The most gut-wrenching panel of the comic features an imaginary conversation between Lazarovic and her two kids.
“So their plan is not safe, but you’re gonna send us anyway?” they ask.
Lazarovic’s work deeply resonated online, as it accurately summarizes the double bind parents find themselves in.
In some ways, Lazarovic’s comic shows the additional burden concerned parents take on: In order to call for change, they become advocates. She ends the piece with a plea to readers to take action by contacting their elected representatives and signing petitions to reduce class sizes — especially non-parents, since parents have enough on their plates.
“We feel so powerless,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can, while also working and taking care of our children. We feel totally cast aside by the government.
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