Toronto

Ontario education minister opens door to staggered start to school reopening

Ontario's education minister said he’s open to a staggered start when it comes to reopening elementary schools, with not all students returning on the same day. 

Parents have raised concerns about class sizes, when schools should reopen

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said he's willing to consider a staggered return to school for elementary school students throughout the first week of the academic year. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's education minister said he's open to a staggered start when it comes to reopening elementary schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with not all students returning on the same day.

"I am open to that," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday.

Lecce also defended his government's back-to-school plan, vowing it will "scale up" its efforts in the coming weeks.

Many parents remained concerned about the potential for large elementary school class sizes at boards across the province. When confronted with some of those concerns, Lecce took a swipe at education unions, who have sharply criticized the governments plan. 

"I've heard that from the unions," he said.

It is clear that parents across the province have serious concerns. Many are currently deciding whether or not they even feel comfortable sending their kids back to school. On Thursday, Toronto parents peppered Toronto District School Board officials with questions about how that board, the largest in the province, will safely reopen.

Listen | Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Ontario's back-to-school plan:

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, joined us to discuss the province's announcement that it is unlocking an extra $500 million in reserves for school boards to enable physical distancing, and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 9:00

Boards allowed to use reserve funds

On Thursday, Lecce announced school boards could raid reserve funds to pay for improved HVAC systems, but it's unclear at this time whether there's enough time to complete those renovations with just weeks to go before the start of the school year.

There have also been questions about whether or not the start of the school year should be delayed.

In a note to trustees sent yesterday, the director of the Toronto District School Board said that given the government's announcement, "staff would have to assess if the necessary arrangements could be made in time for the first day of school on Sept. 8."

And in an email this morning, a spokesperson for the board said at the moment, staff are focusing on what could be done "prior to the start of the school year." He did not specifically address what the board will do if it becomes clear that necessary changes cannot be made in time for Sept. 8.

Other boards have been critical of the decision to open up access to reserve funds, rather than the province providing additional money to help them prepare for the start of school.

Niki Lundquist, a trustee at the Durham District School Board, offered up this analogy during her own interview with Metro Morning today:

"It was a little bit like your child telling you that they need a winter coat and you telling them to go ahead and break open their piggy bank, where they're saving money for boots, and then posting all over social media what a wonderful parent you are for providing this brand new coat to your kid."

Lecce, however, stressed that reserve funds are intended for "rainy day" situations, and that a generational challenge like the global COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as such a scenario.

For more coverage of the issues surrounding back-to-school, check out the links below:

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