Premier, Education Minister champion Ontario’s back-to-school plan amid concerns over class sizes
Premier Doug Ford and his Minister of Education on Friday defended Ontario’s back-to-school plan amid concerns over elementary class sizes, saying the government was “flexible” but did not intend to review the strategy.
“We have to be adaptable,” Ford told reporters at a morning press conference at Queen’s Park. “We have to be flexible – we have been flexible.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce first revealed the province’s plan for returning students to class last week. Since then, he and the Prime Minister have faced criticism from some parents and educators, especially over the decision to keep elementary school class sizes at pre-COVID-19 levels.
“As a father, I understand. I have four daughters who have gone through the system. I understand the parents’ concerns,” Ford said.
In Ontario, there is no cap for grades 4 to 8, only a maximum average of 24.5 for each board. This means that it is not uncommon for children in high enrollment school boards to end up in classes of 30 or more students.
Ford and Lecce on Friday said student health was their top priority and that a combination of COVID-19 measures would keep children safe.
Lecce highlighted a number of new investments and policies for school boards announced by the province last week. Among them, $ 30 million to hire more staff to reduce the size of elementary classes as much as possible.
Lecce and Ford have previously conceded that despite measures to maximize the space available for in-person learning, a distance of at least two meters – the range recommended by Canadian public health experts amid the COVID pandemic -19 – will not always be possible for students at school.
Ford said that while it’s not a “perfect” plan, it’s still the best “in the whole country.”
He also pointed out that particularly concerned parents have the option of opting for e-learning programs for their children.
Boards are encouraged to “be innovative”
A policy of mandatory masks for students in Grades 4 to 12, limiting the number of people students will interact with during the school day and hiring additional public health guards and nurses will help boost safety , Lecce said.
“When you think of it as a collective, this plan and this protocol will keep the children safe,” he said.
Converting gyms and cafeterias into learning spaces will also open up space for distancing, he said.
“We encouraged [boards] be innovative. “
Despite assurances from elected officials, the province’s plan has raised concerns from Toronto Public Health.
In a letter sent by the organization to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) this week, health experts raised a number of red flags and urged the council to reduce class sizes to ensure two meters between students.
The TDSB has also publicly stated that it alone would need the province’s $ 250 million to hire enough additional staff to reduce elementary class sizes across the board.
$ 234 million for childcare services
Meanwhile, the province, along with the federal government, announced new funding to help support child care services during the reopening of COVID-19 in Ontario.
Ford said the two governments have allocated $ 234.6 million for early childhood and early childhood facilities among licensed child care centers.
The money comes under the Safe Restart Accord, an agreement between Ottawa and the provinces that will see Ontario receive $ 7 billion in additional funding.
Ford says the child care money will be used to improve cleaning and public safety protocols for facilities, including licensed child care centers and First Nations child and family programs.
The government said it would provide face coverings to all of these establishments, but did not immediately provide details of other measures the money would help fund.
Ontario daycares, which have been operating on a limited basis since mid-March, are allowed to fully reopen as of September 1.
88 new cases of COVID-19
The Ontario Ministry of Health reported 88 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Friday, the fifth day in a row with fewer than 100 new confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus.
Toronto, Peel and Ottawa were the only public health units to see 10 or more additional cases.
Ontario has now reported a total of 39,897 cases of COVID-19. Of these, just over 90% are considered resolved by public health officials.
There are currently approximately 1,090 confirmed cases of the disease still active across the province.
At 66, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 remains at its lowest since the Ministry of Health began reporting hospitalization data on April 1. Twenty-eight people are being treated in intensive care and only 12 remain on ventilators.
The official death toll from COVID-19 in Ontario has remained stable at 2,783. A CBC News tally based on data provided directly by public health units put the actual toll at 2,821.
All of the numbers used in this story can be found in the Department of Health’s daily update, which includes data up to 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for a particular region on any given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often bypasses provincial system delays.