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Ontario improves back to school plan allowing for more distancing, smaller classes, better air quality


TORONTO, ON, August 13, 2020 — Today at Queen’s Park, the Ontario government announced that it is providing more than 500 million dollars in supports to school boards to ensure schools across the province will reopen safely in September and to protect students and staff.

These supports will enable school boards to provide more physical distancing in classrooms and direct funding to utilize non-school community spaces, and will allow boards to make adjustments based on their local needs. For example, Lecce said Thursday that the reserve funding could be used to create additional classrooms outside of schools if there are difficulties acquiring more space at some schools. Additional funding will also be made available to support improved ventilation and air quality in classrooms.

The province says it is allowing boards to make necessary adaptations, in consultation with their local public health unit. These adaptations could include unlocking access to reserves up to $496 million, an increase of $244 million, by allowing boards to access up to 2 per cent of their operating budget from their prior year accumulated surplus. This funding can be applied to local priorities of each board, based on the immediate needs on the ground to prepare for the start of school.

As mentioned, for boards that do not have sufficient reserves, the government says it will provide up to an additional $11 million in funding to support equitable school re-opening plans provincewide.

Improved air quality in Ontario schools

The Ontario government also said it is providing a record-setting $50 million in one-time funding to support improved ventilation, air quality and HVAC system effectiveness in schools. School boards will continue to maximize their use of existing school renewal funding, which totals over $1.4 billion this school year. Boards will focus on improving air systems in older schools, portables, and in neighbourhoods with higher rates of community transmission.

Details on these important updates for the 2020-2021 school year were provided today by Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, following extensive consultations with leading medical experts across Ontario.

“We have demonstrated throughout this outbreak that we will deliver the strongest and safest plan in Canada for Ontario students, with a recognition that we will continuously strengthen it over time,” said Minister Lecce. “This investment and access to reserves will enable more social distancing and improve air quality, and ultimately strengthen the layers of protection to keep students and staff safe.” 

This announcement follows criticisms by all four education unions over the lack of mask requirements for children under 10, large class sizes, poor ventilation in schools and lack of adequate screenings and safeguards for students.

High quality remote learning

The government is also releasing a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM)  that ensures students receive a high quality and consistent teacher-led remote learning experience. This directive will significantly strengthen minimum expectations, as well as provide a consistent approach across the province to ensure students are fully engaged in their learning, and have a predictable timetable for synchronous, live learning. It will include ministry-set requirements on the minimum time for synchronous learning by grade, protocols for communicating with parents and students and access to technology. The directive also outlines effective practices, such as training and technical support, which will enhance the implementation of synchronous instruction for students and staff.

In addition, the Ontario government is ensuring accountability for parents and an improved remote learning experience by investing $18 million to help school boards hire principal and administrative support to better deliver and oversee synchronous, live learning. Students will continue to have several opportunities throughout the school year to re-enter classroom learning, and boards need to provide at least one re-entry point in the fall.

“We are taking action to ensure live, synchronous learning is improved, providing parents with consistency and a timetable to mirror the in-class experience,” said Minister Lecce. “In order for remote learning to be successful, we are urging unions to embrace this form of learning that parents expect and students deserve.”

The ministry will continue working closely with public health and school boards to monitor and report on the health status of school communities as part of the government’s outbreak management plan.

SOURCE Government of Ontario

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