Ontario’s new school COVID-19 funds add up to “tweaking”

NDP leader Andrea Horwath says new testing protocols and teacher hiring amounts to "tweaking what was already in place"


The province has announced plans to temporarily certify student teachers set to graduate in 2021 to “stabilize staffing levels” in Ontario schools.

The plan was announced Monday by Education Minister Stephen Lecce as part of a government proposal to expand COVID testing and protocols in Ontario schools, including “targeted asymptomatic testing” for the virus. The minister says the additional testing will allow the province to process up to 50,000 tests per week.

The province says its new protocols and hiring of staff amounts to another $381 million investment toward keeping schools safe during the coronavirus.  But it’s mostly a repeat of funding announced back in the summer. That funding was to be used “to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning and promote student mental health.” While schools in Toronto remain closed, schools in other parts of the province have remained open despite a province-wide lockdown. A number of schools were re-opened Monday.

The temporary certification of teachers, the province says, will allow school boards “to employ eligible teacher candidates when there are no occasional teachers available from their current lists.”

The minister says the move is necessary “following high levels of absenteeism.” What those levels are is unclear. A spokesperson for the minister offers on background that “the ministry is responding to an urgent shortage of occasional teachers as communicated by school boards.”

Teachers’ unions have been calling for the hiring of more teachers to reduce class sizes during the pandemic.

But NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the government’s plans announced Monday amount to “tweaking what was already in place.”

She says accommodation for more teachers could have been put in place last summer. She notes that there are a number of retired teachers who could have also been brought back to fill the gap instead of fast-tracking student teachers. The province reached an agreement with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation to allow retired teachers to work back in November. But the ministry says there are still not enough teachers in some boards.

Horwath says the Ford government “doesn’t want to spend the money” to reduce class sizes and hire the teachers needed to make schools safe. She pointed to the testing plan already in place for schools which has led to one in 5 students testing positive for the coronavirus.

“Doug Ford was cutting education before the pandemic hit. What is clear is he doesn’t want to fund it now,” says Horwath.

@nowtoronto

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