Teachers Feel Unsafe Returning to In-Person Learning

With the return to in-person learning, some teachers feel that Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge’s lack of transparency has contributed to providing an unsafe work environment. 

Teachers in both the French and English education sectors feel that not enough has been done to ensure a safe return to school now that classes will return in-person, especially amid the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Some say Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge has not provided an effective plan for teachers and students to return to a safe working environment during the pandemic, and feel that the measures put in place are not sufficient in providing a safeguard between students and teachers.

 Last year, Roberge didn’t believe that air purifiers were necessary in ensuring better air quality, stating that there was no evidence that correlated poor air quality and COVID outbreaks in schools. He has now backpedalled and instead recommended that teachers keep windows regularly opened, to improve air quality — something he mentioned in a press conference on Jan.5 of this year.

 This back and forth in decision-making from the Minister of Education has teachers like MJ, a grade one teacher in Montreal who requested to remain anonymous, feel that they’re not properly represented in what’s best for them. “I think he should resign,” MJ said. “He can’t do the job properly, one day he says something, the other day he says something else. He puts the teachers in a very uncomfortable position.”

 Unions like the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which represent 50,000 teachers across Montreal, Gatineau, Laval, and some other regions in Quebec, are also trying to receive clarity from the government. Sylvain Mallette, president of the FAE, feels that the teachers he represents share the same sentiment in wanting more transparency from the Minister of Education when relaying information. “There’s a sort of confusion, it’s not clear, sometimes one thing is said and 48 hours later it’s contradicted,” Mallette added.

 The aforementioned press conference with Roberge and former public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda ensured that during the two-week hiatus from in-person learning, the already promised 50,000 CO2 readers will finally be delivered and installed in classrooms across the province while another 40,000 should be received between the months of January and February.

 Arruda also highlighted that according to Quebec’s public health experts, N95 masks may not be sufficient due to their lack of comfort and difficulty to speak when worn. Teachers who want to equip themselves with N95 masks will need to do so out of pocket, as the government will not supply them.

 A high school teacher who wanted to remain anonymous told The Concordian that they don’t feel that it should be teachers who should supply themselves with the necessary resources to be adequately protected. Their concern is the government’s actions in ensuring the safety of teachers if a return to in-person teaching becomes a reality.

“My biggest concern is that I don’t think my employer is going to supply N95 masks. What worries me is going back to school with Omicron and having a mask that supposedly doesn’t necessarily protect from anything.”

 The FAE agrees that teachers should have the right to have N95 masks supplied to them by the government. “We continue to ask the government to supply and provide access to N95 masks,” Mallette said. “We have to assure not only teacher security, but also provide a feeling of security within our schools. If they feel a N95 provides a better feeling of security, they should have the right to wear them,” he added.

 Though CO2 readers will ensure readings of the air quality in each room, they will not provide protection against Omicron. For some teachers, the infrastructure of the schools in which they teach are outdated, resulting in some rooms that cannot support air exchangers or even the simple ventilation recommendation by the government of opening a window. “We knew the air quality at our school was poor even before the pandemic. There are some windows that don’t open at our school, so I already didn’t feel safe to begin with,” the anonymous source said.

 “The problem isn’t with equipping classes with CO2 detectors, the problem is that even if the detectors read that there are high levels of pollution in the air, there’s nothing to solve the problem at its core,” Mallette said.

 According to a 10-year government infrastructure plan, slightly over half (54 per cent) of Quebec schools have dated infrastructure, resulting in not only poor air quality and ventilation but a poor condition overall.  

 Mallette and the FAE believe that there could be alternative methods for repairing the air quality in schools, regardless of their condition. “I’m sorry, but if the human race was able to land on the moon and travel through space, we should be able to find ways to install air exchangers in our older schools,” said Mallette.

 Ottawa gave Quebec 432 million dollars to improve air quality and increase hygiene measures across schools in Quebec. However, the provincial government has not been transparent about where the rest of the money was spent.

“The government is still refusing to provide further detail on where the money went except for what the education minister has said,” said Mallette.

 For now, the FAE will continue to request information to try and obtain a justification for the decisions made but to also track the federally-funded money. However, the process of requesting that information is receiving heavy pushback from the government.

“We’re requesting information through access to information (ATI) requests, and we’re not getting anything. The Minister of Health is playing a hand in delaying our requests by contesting our demands so we’re still not able to obtain that information.”


Graphics by James Fay


Religion and sexuality in the workplace

Ideally, a person’s qualification for any job would be limited to their aptitude and general attitude towards the workload. In a perfect world, the only thing an employer should consider before hiring you is your ability to do the job.

Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and we are not perfect people. Against our better judgment, we rely on appearances, religious beliefs, sexuality, and overall social norms to determine a person’s character. As we progress, however, the best of us choose to educate ourselves and overcome social biases. The best of us grow out of superficial moulds and strive to judge by a person’s actions if they should be trusted or not. But that is not the case for most of us.

A few months ago, some would say discriminatory actions were taken in Quebec when the government passed Bill 21; a law reprimanding people for their religious garments in the workplace, under the pretext that it is respecting the province’s laicity.

As if to join hands with their Canadian neighbours, a HuffPost article reports that the Trump Administration is imploring the Supreme Court to legalize firing someone based on their sexual orientation.

“In an amicus brief filed Friday, the US Justice Department argued that a trio of cases set to appear before the Supreme Court this fall should be used to limit Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of sex,” the article read.

The Justice Department’s reading of Title VII recalls that “sex,” as written in the Civil Rights Act, is not intended to allude to one’s sexual orientation which, in their book, means that the law shouldn’t be used to protect LGBTQ+ workers.

“The original bill didn’t define “sex” as a term, and the Trump administration is now using that ambiguity to argue that lawmakers’ original intent focused solely on protecting women’s rights,” wrote the HuffPost.

In Quebec, the Montreal Gazette reported that teachers are struggling the most with Bill 21 and are having a hard time transitioning from a tolerant environment to a limited one. It is stated that no articles of faith – kippahs, turbans, or hijabs – are allowed during the hiring process, and those already hired are allegedly not granted higher positions.

Nadia Naqvi, a science teacher at St. Thomas High School in the West Island, recounted to the Gazette how her five-year plan to move into administration now seems like a distant dream.

“I know I have a lot of leadership qualities,” said Naqvi.“I know I have a lot to offer my school board… but I’m stuck. If that’s not the definition of a second-class citizen, I don’t know what is.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember anybody’s sexuality, let alone religion get in the way of anyone’s job. In my personal experience, I have seen practicing Muslims during Ramadan work twice as hard as usual; and one could barely feel when they would take a small break for their daily prayers. And since when does being part of the LGBTQ+ community inhibit one from doing their job correctly?

But I can see how loving the same sex, or choosing your own gender could deter you from your workload. Can you imagine how much time, effort, and patience it would take to justify your sexual preferences to other people? And let us not even get into the time-consuming act of debating Islam with people who have taken one sentence from the Quran out of context and made it their weapon of choice when arguing.

But I can totally see how loving the same sex or choosing your own gender deters you from your workload. I mean, can you imagine how much time and effort it would take to justify it to other people, because it’s their business, too? And let us not even get into the time-consuming debate on Islam, at the workplace, with people who have taken one sentence out of the Quran, out of context, and made it their choice of weapon when arguing. Yes, these are most definitely valid reasons.

The way I see it, the only time religion or sexuality disrupts working environments is when other people aren’t minding their own business.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


If Concordia classroom walls could talk

No more holding back my response to offensive comments

“Wow! It’s like Islam is a virus.”

That’s what my journalism professor told me when I pitched a story about a girl who converted to Islam. I was shocked and appalled by her “joke” and immediately felt uncomfortable. My face dropped and she said, “I was only kidding.” But the thing is, I knew she wasn’t.

As one of the few Muslim people of colour in my classes and in my program, I’m quite aware of what my professors and fellow classmates say and don’t say when it comes to conversations about race and religion—anything that might pertain to my identity. My ears perk up when these topics arise in class discussions, and I’m immediately defensive because the last thing I want to hear is something that will offend every bone in my body. I grew up experiencing racism at the hands of my teachers and classmates, and unfortunately, part of me is still dealing with those traumatizing incidents. Part of me still expects to experience it in classes today.

This professor, the one who “joked” about Islam being a virus, made me and my Muslim classmate feel uncomfortable numerous times. When the Quebec mosque shooting happened last year, she ignored the fact that there were two Muslims in the class. She was insensitive and dismissive, and treated it as a news story or a pitch idea. Throughout the semester, she made me feel shameful for pitching ideas that related to the Muslim community in Montreal. And yet, I never said anything against her. I never complained.

The following semester, I had another journalism professor who told me Muslim women usually don’t go to mosques. He laughed about my final project that profiled a niqabi Muslim woman. His arrogant and ignorant comments puzzled me, and I attempted to brush them off—maybe he’s confused, I told myself. But throughout that semester, he also implied that all Jamaicans smoke weed and all Asians have impossible-to-spell names.

I always feel offended and uncomfortable when I hear racially insensitive comments. And I’ve realized I should. We all should.

I’ve promised myself that, from now on, I won’t stay quiet. If something bothers me, I won’t question its level of offensiveness until it’s too late to do something about it. If a teacher insults an entire ethnic or religious group in class, I won’t look around the room to see if someone is as angry as I am. I’ve realized that time goes by fast, and if we don’t step forward and use our voices, it eventually becomes harder to speak up.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


TRAC invigilators demand better wages

Negotiations between Concordia and invigilators’ union head to arbitration

The university’s invigilators’ union, represented by Teachers and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC), is launching a public campaign demanding a salary increase.

TRAC’s invigilators have yet to sign their first collective agreement with the university since they  unionized in January 2015.

The university’s latest offer, described by TRAC president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron as a “bad joke,” is $11.43 per hour for invigilators and $12.19 per hour for supervisor-invigilators, who generally have a lot more experience. The $11.43 per hour offer is a 1.6 per cent increase from the $11.25 minimum wage invigilators are currently paid.

“What they are proposing for the year to come is less than the [provincial] minimum wage starting on May 1 [2018], which is unacceptable,” St-Onge-Perron said.

In a statement to The Concordian, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr confirmed negotiations were ongoing and that the university “was looking forward to reaching an agreement.”

The decision to start the campaign now is not a coincidence. The two parties, which went through mediation during the spring up until July, are heading into arbitration. St-Onge-Perron said he wants to put pressure on Concordia in hopes the university will be more conciliatory when speaking to the arbitrator. The arbitrator will speak to both sides and consult their demands before making a decision.

TRAC began its campaign with a video posted on the union’s Facebook page on Aug. 29.

Invigilators from the final exam office, who make up the majority of the invigilators, according to St-Onge-Perron, are all paid minimum wage. The TRAC president said some departments pay more than others.

When the collective agreement is signed, St-Onge-Perron noted, the arbitrator will establish a wage floor. St-Onge-Perron explained that, if a department pays less than what the arbitrator decides on, all salaries from that department will increase to the floor level.

Concordia’s invigilators are currently the lowest paid among Montreal universities. Université du Québec à Montréal’s last collective agreement with the Syndicat des étudiant-e-s employé-e-s de l’UQAM (SÉTUE) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents both TRAC and SÉTUE, established a $16 per hour salary for invigilators in April 2016.

A similar agreement was signed in January between the Syndicat des étudiant(e)s salarié(e)s de l’Université de Montréal (SÉSUM), also represented by PSAC, and the Université de Montréal. The new collective agreement promised $15 per hour for all SÉSUM employees, which represents the school’s invigilators.

St-Onge-Perron, a Concordia student who was elected TRAC president in March, said he hopes the arbitrator will present his decision before Christmas. “According to the information [TRAC] received, we can realistically hope for a decision before [then],” St-Onge-Perron said.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

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