TDSB back-to-school plan to shrink class sizes rejected by ministry of education

The proposed plan had 15 students per class for junior kindergarten to Grade 3 and 20 students per class for Grades 4 to 8.

The plan shortened teaching time by 48 minutes to avoid hiring more staff

The Ministry of Education has rejected Toronto District School Board's plan to shrink elementary class sizes, expressing concerns over the shortened teaching time. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is going back to the drawing board after their plan to shrink elementary class sizes was rejected by the Ontario Ministry of Education. 

"We thought we were close ... with that plan," said Alexander Brown, TDSB Trustee for Ward 12, Willowdale. "We're getting closer and closer [to the start of the school year], and we still don't have a plan."

Last month, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced the province's back-to-school plan which has elementary-level students set to return on a full-time basis. Students in those grades would also remain a single cohort for the entire five days of the week — in classrooms, and during recess and lunch — and school boards would provide the full curriculum. 

As for class sizes, those would remain at the mandated maximum levels set in place before the COVID-19 outbreak leaving many parents, teachers, and other education staff concerned. They have been calling on the government to lower the number of students in each classroom to help limit the number of contacts students and teachers are exposed to.

"Nobody wants their kids to go back to an unsafe environment," said Brown. "We know that is where parents are most concerned. We heard that loud and clear."

Alexander Brown, TDSB Trustee for Ward 12, Willowdale. (TDSB)

The Willowdale trustee said TDSB was asked to develop options for returning students to classrooms in September, one of which accommodated smaller class sizes.

Their proposed plan had 15 students per class for junior kindergarten to Grade 3, and 20 students per class for Grades 4 to 8. The model also shortened the regular 300-minute teaching day in order to accommodate the 48 minutes of preparation time teachers are given daily as per their union agreements.

With the slightly shortened day, Brown says the board would've been able to pay for this plan using reserve money and their portion of the $30 million in funding the province has allotted for school staffing.

However, in a memo to the board's director of education, the ministry rejected the plan, expressing concerns over the shortened instructional day and its impacts on the curriculum and after school child-care programs.

Concerns with shortened instructional day, ministry says

"The ministry's concerns with this model include the shorter instructional day and the lack of access to a full curriculum, including French, art, music and other subjects," said deputy education minister Nancy Naylor. 

"We would ask the board to establish elementary timetables that provide a full 300-minute instructional day for elementary students as required by the Education Act," Naylor added. 

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last week the government is allowing school boards to dip into reserve funding to assist with school safety measures, following mounting criticism of the province's education plan. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The ministry is also calling on teachers' unions to be more flexible during the pandemic. 

"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. 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," said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for the minister of education, in a written statement.

"We will continue to work with the Board to increase distancing between students while trying to preserve as much of the instructional day as possible. However, we will need teacher unions to play a role and be reasonable amid a global pandemic, so our kids can maximize learning in a safe classroom." 

Naylor recommended the board "pursue aspects" of the plan they proposed, including the use of all non-timetabled teachers. She also said the ministry would "support the board in working with Toronto Public Health to identify schools in key neighbourhoods for investments that allow for greater physical distancing."

Brown said the board did have a second plan adhering to the full 300-minute teaching day, but it was significantly more expensive.

"The money you need to pay for all of the teachers is $190 million. That's not viable for us in any way, shape or form, so the 300-minute idea becomes a lot harder to achieve."

A meeting is scheduled on Tuesday for the board to discuss different options for back-to-school models. 


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