More Funds Allotted To School Boards For Safe Reopening

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Minister of Finance Rod Phillips at the Viola Desmond Public School in Ajax, Pic: Stephen Lecce/Twitter

TORONTO: More than half a billion dollars in supports will be given by the provincial government 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.

Details on these important updates for the 2020-2021 school year were provided 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.

Minister Lecce said: “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.”

Ontario is building on its plan and taking additional steps to ensure a safe return to schools
in September, based on the best medical advice available. The government is allowing boards to make necessary adaptations, in consultation with their local public health unit. Adaptations could include smaller class sizes and leasing additional space.

Additional measures include:
• Unlocking access to reserves up to $496 million, an increase of $244 million, by allowing boards to access up to 2 percent 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. For boards that do not have sufficient reserves, the government will provide up to an additional $11 million in funding to support equitable school re-opening plans provincewide.

• 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 neighborhoods with higher rates of community transmission.

The government is also releasing a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) that ensures students receive high quality and consistent teacher-led remote learning experience. 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 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.

• On July 30, 2020 the government released the Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools,
which was developed in consultation with leading medical experts and approved by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. This plan committed over $300 million in funding to support a safe reopening of Ontario’s schools, which is part of the evolving layers of prevention the government is providing to students, parents, staff, and the
communities they live and work in. The provincial guidelines provide a baseline and school boards are encouraged to adapt them to meet local needs and support students and families.

They include:
◦ In-person classes for elementary school students five days per week for the 2020-2021 year
◦ Masking for students in Grades 4-12
◦ Focus on cohorting and limiting student contacts
◦ Adapted secondary school delivery for designated boards

• The Ministry of Education is working with school boards to deliver access to fast and secure broadband internet connectivity needed to support modernized, digital learning in school. All secondary schools are on target to have access by September 2020, and elementary schools by September 2021. As of June 30, 2020, broadband modernization has been completed at 2,252 schools, including 755 rural schools and 461 northern schools.

Work is currently in progress at 2,685 schools, including 338 rural schools and 40 northern schools.