Ontario Pledges $500 Million to Improve Distancing and Ventilation Amid Concerns From Parents and Teachers

Amid the concerns and questions parents had about the province’s back-to-school plans, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced there will be further funding released to help the school board prepare for the new school year in September. 

Alongside Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced on Thursday afternoon that the province will be providing $500 million in funding towards “physical distancing and improved air quality” for schools alongside funding for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and boost for custodians. 

Also, the Education Minister announced additional funding of $50 million for upgrades to ventilation systems specifically amid concerns over student safety as they return to school this September amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For parents who wish to opt-out from having their child returning to school in the fall, Education Minister Lecce announced that the province will be providing up to $18 million in supports for online remote learning to help these students continue their education without physically being present at school. 

According to the province, the half a million dollars in funding will be coming from the Ministry of Education allowing school boards to dip into reserve funds.

Education Minister Lecce stated that school boards that do not have reserve funds will be provided with a boost from an $11 million allocation. 

With the new funding announced today, Education Minister Lecce hopes to resolve concerns that the province has been facing about its back-to-school plans from both parents and teachers. 

How are the Teachers’ Unions reacting to the announcements?

Despite Education Minister Lecce’s announcements today, four major education unions in Ontario published a press release stating that the province’s back-to-school guidelines “fail to meet legal health and safety requirements” and that teachers and students are not protected against COVID-19. 

The unions, which represent more than 190,000 teachers and education workers, raised red flags over the last of mask requirements for elementary school students under the age of 10, the larger class sizes, poor ventilation in schools, and the lack of adequate screenings and safeguards for students and teachers. 

According to the unions, they have asked to meet with the Minister of Labour, Monte McNaughton, and representatives from the Ministry of Education to discuss their concerns. 

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, teachers and parent groups held a protest at Queen’s park to address the class size issues as well as drawing attention to sometimes poor ventilation in older Toronto schools that could create crowding concerns. 

Addressing these concerns, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said on Thursday afternoon that the Ministry of Education is looking into the concerns of ventilation for some schools. 

This past Wednesday, parents and teacher coalitions held another protest asking the province for $3 billion in funding to allow for smaller class sizes and updated ventilation systems. 

These concerns were addressed by both Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce who stated that physical distancing may not always be possible and have encouraged parents to opt for online learning if they are concerned about their children’s safety this fall. 

The push for smaller class sizes came following a report of recommendations for back-to-school planning published in July by SickKids hospital, as the hospital recommended that smaller class sizes be a “priority strategy”.

However, the report noted there is “limited evidence” on what to base the maximum class size numbers on as it depends on other factors like the size of the classrooms and if non-traditional spaces, like outdoor classrooms, are being used.

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