COVID, Confusion, and the Right to Know

Posted February 1, 2022
By Danielle S. McLaughlin

Teaching is a very difficult job. It always has been and always will be. How can you care for learners who have so many varied needs and abilities and also keep everyone in the classroom safe and healthy? Well, you can’t do it alone.

But now? In the midst of a pandemic when we are all concerned about our own health as well as the health of the vulnerable people in our families and communities, teachers are on their own.

As a parent and grandparent, I remember the days of notes coming home from school and daycares announcing that someone in the class (no names of course) had been found to have head lice; chicken pox; salmonella; hepatitis; hand, foot, and mouth disease; or other communicable illness. I also remember how quickly these infestations ran through a class, or even through an entire school. 

I also recall discussions about what to do with this information. Do we keep children home? Do we avoid visits to vulnerable family members? Do we decide to just go on with our lives as usual? The information we received from the schools and daycare was critical to how we chose to protect our families and ourselves.

We also knew that the schools had a legal duty to report certain communicable illnesses. They still have this duty

Make no mistake, without accurate and reliable information, there is no freedom of expression. None of us can make an informed decision without having something on which to base that decision. We cannot decide to protest, to agree, to do more research, or simply to ignore what we are told – unless we are told.

Teachers have been given many charts and hand-outs about COVID-19. They are being given advice on how to decide what to do. They are expected to diagnose their students and to make recommendations regarding health measures. But schools are not required to report to parents or public health authorities what may be this century’s most communicable and arguably serious disease. 

Note that while there is no obligation to report, schools can choose to do so if they want to add to the data collection on absenteeism 

In other words, no one wants to take responsibility for the collection of accurate and complete information that families, teachers and schools can use to make important decisions about health and safety. Each teacher must make this decision for her or himself. 

Is this a freedom of expression problem? Indeed, it is. If I want to complain about the way a school or daycare (or government) is handling the pandemic, I need to know the facts. If I want to laud them on their responsibility and care, I need to know the facts. If I want to make an informed decision, I need to know the facts!

This is not a trivial issue. If we close our eyes and wish it would all go away, we become part of the problem. Of course, we can still speak out without any information or knowledge. The people in the truck convoy currently in Ottawa are doing just that. Their Nazi and Confederate flags speak for themselves. This is not what informed dissent looks or sounds like. Let’s make sure our families and our teachers have better models to show today’s leaners how to speak out. That means providing them with reliable and accurate information on which they can base their decisions.