Local reaction to province's back-to-school announcement
KITCHENER -- The Ontario government says school boards can access reserve funds, as they prepare for students to return in September. That money, about $500 million in total, is meant to help schools as they reduce elementary class sizes and increase physical distancing protocols.
The announcement was made by Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Thursday afternoon.
School boards that don’t have access to reserve funds, he says, will be awarded a “top up” of $11 million.
After the announcement, parents, teachers, school boards and politicians weighed in on the province’s back-to-school plan.
Parents and teachers who spoke to CTV News say they’re still apprehensive about the start of the school year.
“One of my biggest concerns is class sizes,” says parent Jayla Franks. “And how my kids will be able to social distance in their classroom settings.”
Wendy Ashby also worries about what awaits her children.
“The class sizes are a huge issue for me,” she says. “I think it should be 10 to 15 max. And public health, I’d like to see public health nurses in every school.”
Local elementary teachers shares similar feelings.
“I want to be able to look at students and parents in my community and say I’m ready to provide a safe environment for your child,” says Ashley Teeter, who teaches in Kitchener. “Right now, I don’t think we’ve been given the tools and resources to do that.”
Under the provincial plan, elementary students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 will return to school full-time in September, and there would be no changes to class sizes.
Most secondary schools, meanwhile, will use an adapted model. This means students will attend school on specific days, and on the other days they will be assigned remote or independent work. Class sizes will also be reduced to approximately 15.
On Thursday, the education minister also announced that the province will spend $50 million to update school HVAC systems in an effort to improve ventilation.
Angel Hammoud, who teaches at a high school in Elmira, says he’s not sure that will be effective in older buildings.
“I don’t know if that money will go a long way to necessarily fix those issues,” he says.
The province will also be providing $18 million to help with online learning, through principal and support staff hiring.
Mike Schreiner, the Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP, says the announcement does nothing to address the concerns of parents.
“The government has to listen to parents, educators and the health experts who are calling for lower class sizes. The premier should consider delaying the start of the school year until we get this right.”
The Waterloo Region District School Board issued a statement after the announcement. It reads:
“The Waterloo Region District School Board remains focused on implementing our return to school plans and is committed to supporting a safe and healthy school year. Although we welcome additional funding to support our students and staff, we will await further information from the Ministry of Education and our Business Services staff regarding how today’s announcement will impact us locally. We look forward to welcoming our students and staff back to school in September and will continue our efforts to best prepare for the new school year.”
In a Thursday tweet, Waterloo District School Board Chair Jayne Herring noted the timing of the announcement was problematic.
Before everybody gets too excited about these announcements...how are Boards and staff supposed to make all of this happen when today is August 13th?— Jayne Herring (@CambridgeJayne) August 13, 2020
The Waterloo Catholic District School Board says they were not given advance notice of the province’s plans. In an email to CTV News, they say: “We have not even seen anything in writing as yet, and will need some time to process what was offered.”
They go on to say: “We are always grateful for more detail and respect that plans have the ability to evolve. Having said that, there are many moving parts to consider connected to re-opening and we are getting closer to the start of the school year. We will take the time to assess if today’s announcements will provide us with additional possibilities, as the details are still not fully known to us and timelines are short. We are grateful for further clarity on synchronous learning expectations, but again, we need time to see the full details and announcement in writing.”
Melanie Van Alphan with the Waterloo Catholic Board also took to Twitter to express her dissapointment.
Statement by @CatholicEdu President. Definitely disappointed in today's announcement.— Melanie Van Alphen (@MelVanAlphen) August 14, 2020
Clear, consistent & collaborative plans are needed. This creates confusion and more questions.
Thank you @WCDSBNewswire staff for working tirelessly on this ever-changing @ONgov plan. https://t.co/6DShVaH5HS
Teacher's unions say the government’s back-to-school plan has failed to meet legal, health and safety requirements.
"If they fail to address the concerns that my members have for themselves and their students then we are still going to have difficulty," said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers' Federation.
They’re demanding a meeting with the Ministry of Education by next Friday.