No firm date on the return to the classroom as education minister points to high COVID numbers

Uncertainty comes amid $2 billion funding announcement

There is no firm date yet on when to expect kids back into the physical classroom.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce was unable to provide a timeline on when students would be permitted back into a brick-and-mortar classroom, saying conditions aren’t right yet. “The fact of the matter is the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario’s advice has not changed,” he said during a Tuesday afternoon media conference. “We continue to face real issues in the province of Ontario; high rates of community-based transmission and our intensive care units continue to face incredible levels of stress.”

ONTARIO STUDENTS WILL HAVE VIRTUAL LEARNING OPTION NEXT SCHOOL YEAR

When pushed for a hint on when parents might expect some news on the return to school, Lecce said as soon as he knows, they’ll know. “Obviously, as soon as more information becomes apparent to the province, we’ll communicate it so families know. I think that’s a reasonable expectation.”

Given the grim picture Lecce painted of the remainder of the academic year, he was asked if the rest of this year is a wash, and if students will have to wait to see their classmates face-to-face in September. “That decision is going to be informed by the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and his opinion to the government has not changed in the matter.”

“The data points continue to, I think raise great concerns, it’s why the province has taken such decisive action,” he added.

This came as Lecce announced over $2 billion in additional education funding for the school year starting in September. About $1.6 billion of that funding would be available to protect schools against COVID-19. Funding highlights include:

  • $59 million in continued special education, mental health, well-being and equity supports, the highest ever investment (including an annual $10 million investment as part of the GSN);
  • $35 million in additional technology funding (including an annual $15 million to support technology such as devices for students in the GSN and $20 million in connectivity supports for remote learning technology);
  • $20 million in new funding to support learning recovery and renewal;
  • $29 million for increased costs related to school operations;
  • $66 million for enhanced cleaning protocols and other health and safety measures in student transportation;
  • $86 million for school-focused nurses in public health units and testing;
  • $384 million in temporary COVID-19 staffing supports;
  • Up to $450 million in personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical supplies and equipment, e.g., cleaning supplies provided through the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services and the pandemic stockpile; and
  • Up to $508 million for school boards to access up to 2 per cent of reserves to support COVID-related expenses.

Tuesday’s funding announcement came as the education minister confirmed that school boards across Ontario are now required to offer virtual learning as options for students by this September.