The Ontario Government has announced an additional $381 million for Ontario schools through the federal Safe Return to Class Fund.
According to a statement from the office of Daryl Kramp, MPP for Hastings, Lennox & Addington, the funding will be used to continue to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health and hire additional staff. With this new funding, Kramp said schools will have been provided with more than $1.6 billion to implement pandemic safety measures.
“It’s been an impressive and continuous improvement for schools and students since last March,” Kramp said. “Air quality has been a big focus with over 23,000 HEPA filters and 20,000 portable HEPA units, and nearly 3,000 other ventilation devices installed province-wide.”
Locally Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB) confirmed they have added 75 HEPA filtration units and 53 Classroom Unit Ventilators to their facilities. “These units have been installed in classrooms that were previously without mechanical ventilation,” said ALCDSB.
Limestone District School Board (LDSB) did not have information about ventilation spending immediately available but offered to provide further details next week.
Provincewide return to in-class learning
As of Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, more than 520,000 students across Ontario including those in Kingston, had returned to in-person learning. On Monday, Feb. 8, 2021 an additional 700,000 students, including those in the Ottawa region will be able to return. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 the final 730,000 students in Toronto and some surrounding regions are planned to be back in class.
“We agree with parents and medical experts that kids need to be learning in class – alongside their friends and teachers – as it is crucial for their mental well-being and development,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “We will continue to follow expert medical advice and work to get all schools open, for children in all regions of our province.”
The government said they have introduced additional measures to further protect students and staff, including:
- Provincewide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, using a combination of lab-processed PCR and rapid antigen tests;
- Mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3, including outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained; This policy had already been in place in Kingston-area schools since September, as determined by local boards
- Enhanced screening of secondary students and staff;
- New guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and,
- Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.
“With these enhanced measures, we are making good progress towards a province-wide return to in-person learning, while keeping the safety of children, teachers and schools at the forefront,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Moreover, I am pleased to be getting more children back in class, which greatly benefits their development and well-being.”
To date, the Ontario government said they have hired 3,400 additional teachers, 1,400 custonidans and 650 educational assistants, mental health workers and professionals.
The Government also said they are providing an additional 3.5 million masks for students. Finally, to support the expansion of targeted asymptomatic testing, the Ministry of Education said they have procured test collection capacity for up to 50,000 tests per week, to be deployed at the discretion of local public health units in collaboration with schools.