Empty classroomFrontline workers are warning of devastating lifelong effects from the Toronto District School Board’s looming cuts of nearly 100 designated early childhood educators (ECEs) for the school year starting in September.

“TDSB trustees must immediately rescind these damaging cuts,” said John Weatherup, president of CUPE 4400. “Children five years old and younger are one of the groups most affected by the pandemic. Being forced to learn online has already set them back. It’s simply wrong for those in charge to cut corners on the hands-on experience our kids need now that they’re back in the classroom.”

According to the Ontario Ministry of Education: “ECEs have knowledge of early childhood development, observation skills, and assessment skills. They bring a focus on age-appropriate program planning that promotes each child’s physical, cognitive, language, emotional, social and creative development and well-being.”

If these cuts occur as planned, 96 designated ECEs – predominately racialized women – will lose their jobs. Many kindergarten classes with 29 five or six year old students will be reduced from having two adults in the room to only one.

“Students in historically underserved areas of the city are the most impacted by underfunding and more cuts,” said Melissa Somer, DECE. “We’ve seen a demonstrated lack of reading, writing, and mathematical skills due to the use of virtual learning systems.”

“ECEs are trained in physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children,” said Lanette Bryant, DECE. “At this time, more than ever before, it’s imperative that every Kindergarten classroom has a designated early childhood educator in it.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected children from low-income families,” said Dr. Petr Varmuza, retired Director of Operational Effectiveness, City of Toronto Children’s Services. “Instead of making cuts, the TDSB should be directly delivering before and after-school programs in every school – especially in the poorest neighbourhoods.”

In March, the TDSB chair wrote to Education Minister Stephen Lecce reminding him that: “New students entering Junior Kindergarten in the 2022-23 school year will have spent the vast majority of their existence living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Early childhood development depends on experience, and particularly social experience, which stimulates, tunes and hones the brain’s unfolding architecture. Because of the pandemic, opportunities for social experience have been limited due to closed childcare services, community centres, playgrounds, social distancing and other factors.”

“Decades of bad decisions by Conservative and Liberal governments to insufficiently fund our children’s schools have brought us here,” said Weatherup. “Each of us has power in the choice we’ll make when we mark our ballot next Thursday and it’s time for change.”