Thunder Bay

Matawa First Nations requesting additional funds to support students return to school in September

The Matawa Chiefs Council said the core funding provided for the new school year will not be sufficient to ensure the safe return of students in September, according to a press release on Wednesday.

Matawa Chiefs Council to prepare fully-costed emergency COVID-19 education plan by July 20

The Matawa Chiefs Council is urgently calling for supplementary funding to support the safe return of students to First Nations schools in the fall. (Matawa First Nations / Facebook)

The Matawa Chiefs Council is requesting the federal government to provide emergency supplementary funding to support ongoing costs and new measures to ensure the safe return of students in September, according to a press release on Wednesday.

The chiefs council said the government has not made funding available nor answered questions about COVID-19 mitigation in First Nations schools, despite multiple requests.

Chief Harvey Yesno from Eabametoong First Nation said the request is urgent.

"Time is running out. September is going to come fast, and we don't have the resources in place in order to have functional and safe classrooms for teachers and the students."

Chief Yesno added that many of the educational needs of the Matawa First Nations have been longstanding, and the pandemic has exacerbated issues like small classrooms, lack of consistent internet connectivity and high turnover of teachers.

Matawa to prepare education response plan

Yesno compared the response and options available for Ontario public schools as opposed to First Nations schools in northern Ontario.

The Ontario government has offered school boards the option to choose between full resumption of in-class instruction, online-only learning, or a blended model. They also announced an investment of $15 million to purchase technology and an additional $10 million to hire mental health workers.

Remote First Nations in northern Ontario however, cannot offer the same quality of online learning because many "don't have broadband," Yesno added. "It's in the works, but it will probably be two years before it's built. In the meantime ... we can't give online learning as an option."

Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno says the online learning options available to students across Ontario are not accessible by many kids in remote First Nations, as the communities have limited broadband. (CBC)

Matawa is in the process of preparing a fully-costed emergency education response plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so parents and students can be confident during the return to school in the fall.

The plan will include measures such as upgraded bandwidth so teachers and students can access online resources; additional PPE supplies; capital costs to make upgrades to facilities; and supports for curriculum modification.

The Matawa Chiefs Council expects to have the plan completed by July 20.