Hard capped classes of 20, increased access to special education and mental health professionals, and a promise to match the over $500 million that’s already been invested by the federal government to improve school ventilation — these were the top promises made by Ontario Liberal Leader Steven del Duca laid out the Liberal plan for Education Recovery in a press conference hosted by Ted Hsu, Liberal Candidate for MPP, Kingston and the Islands, on the morning of Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2021.
Hsu pointed to the Ontario Science Table’s report, COVID-19 and Education Disruption in Ontario: Emerging Evidence on Impacts, saying, “The numbers that some economists are coming up with for the long-run cost of education disruption are alarming.”
The Liberal Leader put much of the blame on Ontario’s Ford government, citing a lack of leadership and cooperation. “We have seen throughout this pandemic that there has never been a genuine attempt or effort made by Doug Ford or his team to have an ongoing conversation with the partners that we have in Ontario’s education system. And to me, that’s a real missed opportunity,” said Del Duca, “and it’s a lack of leadership.”
Citing multiple Zoom conversations over the past year with different partners from every aspect of publicly-funded education province wide, Del Duca said, “There’s been a remarkable level of consensus about their desire to help, their desire to provide advice and give guidance to the government or, in this case, an opposition party, and I’m sure to all opposition parties, about what would work on the front lines of education. And so, while we can’t press rewind and go backwards in life, Doug Ford right now, today, this week, needs to give the instructions to a minister and he himself needs to engage in that genuine authentic consultation all the way through to get the best possible advice again to set our kids up for success.”
He continued, “Class sizes are such an important foundational element of how we set our kids up for success and create that resilient world-class, publicly-funded education system that everybody in this province wants. So, in the Ontario Liberal plan for education recovery, we call for a hard cap of 20 in class sizes right across the board.” Kingstonist clarified with Del Duca that this would in fact include all elementary and all high school classes.
The Liberal Leader explained, “That will give those children in this province — thousands of whom are likely suffering from significant learning gaps because of the nature of how tough the pandemic has been — the chance to be assessed properly, and to get the kind of in-person direct instruction from their teacher and from the other support staff in their school environment. So they can go forward, achieve, catch up, and feel comfortable in the school setting.”
In Hsu’s opening remarks he pointed out a pressing need for support for kids with special needs and mental health challenges.
Del Duca responded that, “We’re calling for 5,000 new special education professionals, that is more than one additional special education professional per school in Ontario, to help those children who need that extra help get the help that they need, because of course, we’re not doing well as a province. We’re not doing well in our school system unless we’re all given that chance to perform and to excel. We’re calling for 1,000 mental health professionals to be brought in to provide support, because we know we know how grueling and how devastatingly difficult on the mental health side this pandemic has been for everyone.”
“We know we know that right now in Ontario, there are far too many schools that are not in a good state of repair. And during a pandemic, during the health crisis, the notion of air quality and ventilation quality has been a really big deal for moms and dads in terms of the peace of mind that we should all have sending our kids to school,” said Del Duca, “and so our plan would match the $500+ million that’s already been invested by the federal government to make sure we have top notch ventilation, top notch air quality within our schools. Again, so important when you’re dealing with something like a health crisis, especially when… you should want to give moms and dads, students, teachers, and everyone else working in education, that peace of mind.”
Finally, Del Duca took aim at the Ford government’s position on virtual versus in-person learning.
“I will tell you, having witnessed this firsthand with my own daughters this school year, I’m here to tell you that nothing will ever substitute or be better than in-person learning when our children are healthy and safe in a building that is physically healthy and safe, when they’re being taught and when they’re being supported by motivated individuals who are respected and honored on those frontlines of education,” he said.
“This notion at a philosophical level that Doug Ford has come up with, whereby he wants to see an ongoing parallel virtual publicly-funded system is just not on for me. It’s not on for me as a dad, it’s not on for me as someone who’s running to be your next Premier. I think it’s a mistake. I think it’s a way to cut costs rather than actually achieve success for our kids. And I think that’s really bad economic policy, and it’s horrifically bad education policy.”
Given that many feel — and have very publicly expressed — that Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Ford have been hostile to teachers right from the get go and as well under the pandemic, and that they have been framing any input from educators as ‘union bickering,’ Del Duca was asked if the Liberal government would that accept that teachers are experts in education and work with them.
“That’s a great question. I think the way that Doug Ford’s approach to publicly funded education, the way that he has undermined and disrespected the women and men who do work on the frontlines, teachers, but also custodians, bus drivers, principals, trustees, everybody, that the entire publicly-funded education ecosystem has been completely disrespected and downgraded and undermined by Doug Ford,” he responded. “And I think that’s a recipe for disaster.”
The Liberal leader concluded, “I think there’s something at a philosophical level that Doug Ford has made quite clear: he doesn’t support or value publicly-funded education. And I disagree with him on that. I do value it, and I value the women and men who work heroically on the frontlines. I want every single educator and I want every other person working in publicly-funded education to feel valued, and to feel respected and be motivated to pursue their life’s work, their vocation, in the way that they want to, which is to set our kids up for success. That’s what I want to see in my daughters’ classroom and what I want to see in classrooms in every corner of Ontario.”