Premier Ford decreed recently that he wanted students to return to schools in person full time 5 days a week in September. As a parent, there are so many reasons to support this: Kids get to see their friends, a return to some kind of normalcy, the mental health benefits, and frankly kids get the space to be kids again.
The glaring problem?
The Premier has also said that there will not be any additional investments over what they had previously announced, to support this.
You cannot force schools to open properly with all students coming back full time in the era of Covid 19, without investing in safety equipment, barriers, expanding spaces to allow for social distancing, or any of the other public health preventative measures.
If you recall, Premier Ford did this before with one of his first announcements after becoming Premier: he cut the number of Toronto City Councillors in half. He somehow felt that they could be more efficient with half the staff. He has also made similar declarations in the past about funding for education, community organizations, healthcare and those requiring social supports. (Note: none of these worked).
Why You Can’t Just Declare Efficiency or Effectiveness
Research and decades of experience point to one immutable fact: to improve service effectiveness or to find efficiencies, you need to invest time, money and/or effort to improve at least one of four areas: people, technology, processes or policies.
You can’t force a unit, an organization or a group of people to magically cut costs, reduce service times, to become more effective at what they do or any other improvement without first changing:
How they do their work (their processes),
What tools they work with (i.e. technology or infrastructure)
What skills they have (people)
What kind of rules or regulations are supporting or holding them back (policies)
Without investing in those things, you are asking the impossible. People aren’t sitting around being inefficient or ineffective on purpose. They need a new stimulus and support to improve how they get to their desired outcomes.
Why did cutting the number of Toronto City Councillors fail to make any improvements? Because effectively their work doubled without any improvements in training, process or technology (You have half the number of people doing the same level of work, only it gets worse each year as the number of citizens grow).
You Need to Invest in School Infrastructure to Achieve an Effective Reopening
Off the top of my head, what schools need to do to reopen with all students fulltime five days a week:
Additional space for larger classrooms to allow for social distancing;
Investing in training for teachers to teach and engage students in a new way;
Additional effort and equipment to sort out the fields and outdoor play areas;
Additional investment in thinking, equipment and teachers to allow for students to be taught and engaged outdoors;
Additional investment in barriers and other protective equipment;
Additional investment in extra school supplies to support students from lower income households;
Extra mental health supports to deal with student mental health challenges in an environment that might be scary or uncertain at first;
Changing provincial regulations to support local public health regulations.
What Happens if The Government Doesn’t Invest in Reopening Schools?
All exercises in operational excellence will ultimately fail without investing in people, process, technology or policies.
If the Provincial Government forces schools to open fulltime without any investment in those four areas, we will get more of the same that led to this problem: increases in the number of cases of kids getting sick, increases in mental health challenges, and students with learning challenges or socio economic challenges taking it on the chin more than the others.
Kids will be kids and will want to touch, hug, tag, and buddy around with their friends. But if we invest properly maybe we can do this safely and properly.