How a Toronto high school is tackling overcrowded classes

As schools try to find solutions to overcrowded classrooms, one east-end Toronto school is moving students around by combining classes, splitting grades and in some cases, removing students from courses.

Malvern Collegiate Institute has told parents it's combining some classes, splitting grades

The letter, signed by the school's principal Bernadette Shaw, says every effort will be made for a seamless transition for students. (Google Maps)

Amid concerns over crowded classrooms, one Toronto school is trying to find solutions to put parents, teachers and students at ease.

On Tuesday, Malvern Collegiate Institute sent a letter home to parents providing clarification on the changes aimed at accommodating all the students. 

The changes "might affect how classes and timetables are organized," the letter says.

The school in Toronto's east end says it is reorganizing the classes by combining them, splitting grades, moving students to a new classroom or, in some cases, removing students from a course.

The move comes after the Ford government ordered school boards earlier this year to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average of 28 students per class from 22 in high schools over four years. Class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom over the same period, to 24 from 23.

The changes ordered by the province are partly to blame for overcrowding in some classes across the province due to a shortage of teachers, according to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF). However, school boards have said some overcrowding is not unheard of when classes begin each September.

Malvern's administration stresses the goal is to ensure students' path to post-secondary education isn't affected, so they will only be asked to drop a course if it's over capacity and not mandatory for graduation.

'Pretty chaotic'

Ron Johnson, who has a daughter in Grade 9 at Malvern, says this school year has been "pretty chaotic" so far.

"For her, going into Grade 9, she was already pretty intimidated by the whole thing. Then to be faced with classrooms that had upwards of 40 kids was pretty shocking," he said.

"One of the classes was so full they didn't even have desks for the kids. They had benches at the back for people who came in last."

Johnson said he was relieved to receive the letter and learn that the school was taking steps to rectify the situation.

"I knew something had to give based on what the school board was saying and by what average class sizes were projected by the province. So I was happy about it."

The Toronto District School Board says Malvern is currently 22 per cent over capacity, and that many schools in the board are implementing similar measures to deal with the number of students. 

'This is exactly what we said would happen'

Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, says the union has been concerned about class sizes since early 2019.

"This is exactly what we said would happen when the government first made its announcement," he said.

"You have the same number of students at least and fewer teachers, certainly a worse ratio of students to teachers, in order to provide them with the courses they need."

But Bischof says he thinks the situation will get worse over the next few years, and that actions being taken at Malvern are also happening elsewhere.

"We've heard about this happening all across the province," he said.

"Students who can't get access to courses they need to graduate, students in classes of 40 and more," Bischof said. 

Government response

Facing a backlash over the impact the changes would have on teacher jobs, the government created a $1.6-billion fund for school boards to ensure no teachers were laid off as a result of its plan.

A written statement sent to CBC News Thursday from the Ministry of Education says the onus is on school boards to manage class sizes.  

"It is the responsibility of school boards to allocate funding for each school or program based on local need," the statement from spokesperson Ingrid Anderson reads.

"This gives the board the flexibility to make decisions about staffing and program delivery to best serve its students," Anderson wrote.

The ministry also said it is not uncommon for school board to re-organize classes at the beginning of the school year, and that the job protection fund for teachers is "working as intended."


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