Ontario Liberals reveal $3.2 billion back-to-school plan

Photo by Louis Bauer

Steven Del Duca, leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, has released a $3.2 billion plan to return students to classrooms in the fall, in groups no larger than 15 students.

Del Duca said his ‘Students in Schools Action Plan’ calls for 120 new classroom locations, the hiring of 270 additional educators and 210 additional caretakers in Kingston specifically. He said these measures would enable safe, physically-distanced learning, which he calls “the first step” in getting parents back to work, and reopening the economy.

Ontario’s Minister for Education, Stephen Lecce, has asked school boards to prepare for three possible teaching scenarios in the fall — classroom learning, a hybrid of classroom and online, or fully online delivery of coursework. School boards are required to prepare their plans by Tuesday, Aug. 4.

The Ontario PC government’s guidelines for reopening schools indicate that attendance will be voluntary, and that teachers and students should maintain “cohorts” of no more than 15 people in regular contact with one another.

This would greatly decrease the number of students per teacher in Ontario classrooms, which has raised questions for educators, students and their families since the guildelines were released on Friday, Jun. 19.

Del Duca said that distance learning needs vast improvements, and that safe, in-class experience should be front and centre in plans for the Fall.

Del Duca’s said his Students in Schools Action Plan will fund:

  • 15,000 more elementary teachers to reduce class size to 15: $1.30 billion
  • 10,000 more caretakers to clean elementary and secondary schools: $500 million
  • 14,000 new classrooms in community centres, campuses, arenas, etc.: $200 million
  • 2,000 more secondary school teachers: $170 million
  • School transportation (cleaning, retrofits, staggered starts): $80 million
  • Cleaning and hygiene supplies and equipment: $120 million
  • 1,500 special education professionals: $120 million
  • New equipment for students and educators (approx. 400,000 new devices): $200 million
  • Reverse cuts to school mental health and hire 1,000 more mental health professionals to support staff and students: $75 million
  • Centrally procuring and purchasing personal protective equipment for students and staff (e.g., face shields, masks, gloves): $110 million
  • Support parental engagement and communication: $25 million
  • Public health coordination of screening, testing and contact tracing: N/A
  • Contingency (10%): $290 million

In Kingston (Limestone & ALCDSB) he said the plan would mean:

  • 120 new classroom locations in community centres, campuses, arenas, etc.
  • 270 additional educators to reduce class sizes
  • 210 additional caretakers to keep schools and school buses clean

Del Duca notes that he anticipates the this to be a one-time funding plan for the 2020-21 school year, after which, he said a vaccine may likely be available. “Regardless, the government should begin planning for 2021-22 as early as possible,” he noted.

“Students and their parents in Kingston have been waiting for far too long to hear what will happen in September,” said Del Duca. “Living with this uncertainty has caused unnecessary anxiety during what has already been a stressful time. Getting our students back to school safely is what kids critically need for their own development, and it’s the only way their moms and dads can have peace of mind to return to work.”

“It is the responsibility of the Premier to develop a plan to achieve this safely, including sufficient training and support,” he said. “Reopening the economy without full day school in September puts families in impossible situations. It forces parents to choose between their children’s education and their work.”

Since schools closed at the end of March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Del Duca said he has heard many stories of parents, and mothers in particular, struggling to continue their careers.

“We need to ensure schools are a safe place to learn and a safe place to work,” Del Duca said. “That’s why my plan dramatically expands the number of classrooms and educators.”

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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