The provincial Ministry of Education has rejected Toronto District School Board (TDSB) proposals for reopening both elementary and secondary schools, claiming plans for both don’t give students enough time in class.
The rejection means parents still do not know the exact size of their children’s classes or how or when the school day will start or end – with three weeks left before the scheduled start of the school year.
TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said the Ontario government took issue with the board’s plan to reduce the average size of classrooms to 15 students for kindergarten to grade three, and 20 students for grades four to eight, which would have seen the board hire 200 additional teachers at a cost of $20 million.
Ending the elementary school day 48 minutes earlier was cited as the most affordable way to decrease class sizes and increase physical distancing, as teachers’ prep time was moved earlier into the school day.
The Ford government also refused to approve the TDSB’s plans for a “quadmester” high school year, saying it did not give students a minimum of 50 per cent of the school week physically in class.
The ministry informed the TDSB of its refusal in a memo submitted to the board on Aug. 14.
In a statement, Ministry of Education spokesperson Caitlin Clark said the rejection was largely due to the school board moving prep time into what was traditionally considered part of the school day.
“We want to see students in class for a full day. Several teacher unions have refused to discuss issues such as prep time, supervision limits, and lunch breaks,” Clark told CP24. “This has forced boards to make significant adaptations, which in many cases does not serve to maximize learning experience, health and safety, and well-being of students.”
The province’s original $309 million school reopening plan includes plans for a “hybrid” of in-person and online learning at the high school level, as well as some funds for the hiring of public health nurse and additional custodians.
But parents and school boards have criticized the plan’s lack of physical distancing standards in the elementary grades, something called for in multiple reports published by the province’s leading epidemiologists and pediatricians.
In response, Education Minister Stephen Lecce authorized boards to dip into their reserve funds to hire more teachers to increase physical distancing, and granted $50 million to upgrade ventilation systems in schools.
Speaking with CP24 on Monday, TDSB Chair Alexander Brown said that while the TDSB is prepared to go ahead with a conventional 300-minute learning day, doing so would carry a cost of $190 million.
He said that by ending the school day 48 minutes earlier the board can reduce class sizes for a fraction of the price.
“If the ministry is flexible they will let us do this,” he said. “They have to realize that one size cannot fit all in a pandemic and that we all need to be flexible. They asked us for our flexibility and I am asking them now for their flexibility on this.”
Bird says the board will consider changes meant to placate the ministry, as well as how much it plans to take from its reserve fund, before a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.