School Boards Continue To Advocate For Student Success And Well-Being

A child in a classroom. Image by cherylt23 from Pixabay

Toronto, January 4, 2021 – As we move forward into 2021, with remaining uncertainty during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the advocacy of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) on behalf of Ontario’s English public school boards remains steady and strong.

“As leaders in the education sector, we have the incredible privilege and responsibility to advocate on behalf of Ontario’s English public school system,” said President Cathy Abraham.

“Reflecting back on our accomplishments of the past few months, we have met many challenges during the pandemic. While we have been unable to meet in person, our Association has remained engaged in our work to shape a province in which children can thrive, dream and realize their full potential.”

School boards across the province were required to reimagine the way they operate, and to address new challenges as well as existing ones that were exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We continually emphasized the need for an ongoing conversation between school boards and the ministry to ensure that we were able to address the many unexpected challenges associated with returning to in-person education during a pandemic, while also operating a parallel online system,” Abraham said.

“The Ministry of Education has responded positively to many of the concerns we have raised, but our work continues.”

Our trustee-led Education Program and Policy Development Work Teams have been extremely busy.

This work has included:
• A response to Bill 229, Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020, regarding the “Support for Learners” initiative, the creation of Supply Ontario, Ontario’s Skilled Trades Strategy, and the Black Youth Action Plan.

• A response to the government’s plans for a proposed expanded e-Learning mandate for TVO.

• A submission to the Minister of Education’s Consultation Document Regarding Proposed Regulatory Amendments under the Childcare and Early Years Act, 2014.

Following the ratification of three-year central agreements with all education sector unions in the spring, local bargaining continues across the province and OPSBA is supporting member boards in that endeavor whenever possible.

The October announcement that Regulation 274/12: Hiring Practices was being repealed was great news for Ontario’s public school boards and their communities. We have been advocating strongly for the repeal of Regulation 274, which favoured seniority as the most important factor in teacher hiring, since its introduction in September 2012.

Recent advocacy and progress made by the Association this year also include:

• Provision of advice and comment to the government and the public on behalf of English public school boards on a number of COVID-19-related issues:

o Funding to alleviate financial pressures, local funding for hotspots, and voluntary asymptomatic testing in schools
o COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream
o The use of school board reserve funds and advocating for their replenishment
o The return to school – media statement and a previous submission to the Ministry of Education regarding Ontario’s plan to reopen schools
o Participation in a framework (the “Supporting Communities Agreement”) that allowed staff from school boards to volunteer to be redeployed to other areas of the public service that were particularly strained as a result of the pandemic. Hundreds of English public school board staff volunteered.
o Continued information sharing with the Ministry of Education regarding necessary regulatory changes to permit school boards to continue to meet virtually throughout the remaining months of the pandemic.
o Conducting of valuable public polling with Nanos Research regarding the reopening of schools

• OPSBA’s Board of Directors unanimously supported the idea of conducting an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion audit to determine the best approach to combatting systemic racism and oppressive practices introspectively at its November 28 virtual meeting. OPSBA is now working to operationalize the motion.

• Advocacy to Minister Stephen Lecce and a media statement regarding ongoing issues affecting Indigenous children, youth, and their communities, in particular the ongoing lack of broadband and technology access for many First Nations. OPSBA’s Indigenous Trustees’ Council, chaired by Algoma DSB trustee Elaine Johnston, continues to expand its membership and influence.

• Continued advocacy of school board funding priorities at all opportunities following our January 2020 Grants for Student Needs (GSN) consultation submission. As always, OPSBA is connecting with trustees, student trustees, and school board business officials to inform our 2021-22 GSN consultation.

• Participation in the re-launch and promotion of the Trustee Professional Development Program. The program focuses on topics ranging from Governance to Community Engagement to Finance, to Labour Relations, Social Media and Internal Audits.

• Leadership in the development of effective strategies to improve the recruitment and retention of French as a Second Language (FSL) teachers in Ontario.

• Leadership on the Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health. The Coalition, now in its 11th year, has proven to be integral as students and staff struggle in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association represents English public district school boards and public school authorities across Ontario,