February 1, 2021, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced an additional $381 million in funding for school boards to improve school safety during COVID-19. Funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health, and hire additional staff.
This funding is the second installment to be provided through the federal Safe Return to Class Fund. The first installment was announced in August 2020.
The province also announced the expansion of targeted asymptomatic testing in schools and child care centres in order to protect these settings from COVID-19.
This announcement follows today’s resumption of in-person learning at schools in Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Southwestern, and Ottawa public health units, which enabled approximately 280,000 Ontario students to return to class after a prolonged holiday break.
The government also announced the extension of the Ontario Community Support Program (OCSP) until 2022. This program was established in April 2020, to ensure that low-income seniors and people with disabilities have access to food, medicine, and other essentials during COVID-19. Since the establishment of the program more than 800,000 deliveries have been made by volunteers in communities across the province.
Second Installment of Safe Return to Class Fund
Today, Minister Lecce announced the second installment of $381 million for Ontario school boards, from the federal Safe Return to Class Fund, which is intended to support measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
The second installment of the Safe Return to Class Fund will be allocated as follows:
- $80 million for remote learning devices, including laptops and tablets;
- $65 million for health and safety costs, including additional staffing and/or board-funded or transportation-related personal protective equipment (PPE);
- $62 million to support learning gaps, and improve math, reading, special education, and mental health programming;
- $60 million to support improved online learning, including developing digital course content and technological supports;
- $50 million to optimize air quality through investments in portable HEPA filters and alternative solutions;
- $33 million for expanded testing and additional supports for high priority areas;
- $10 million for continued support of student mental health, the implementation of the new School Mental Health Ontario Action Kit, and funding for Kids Help Phone;
- $6 million in focused funding for equity initiatives, such as those that are supportive of Black, racialized, and Indigenous students, and students with special education needs; and
- $5 million for safe student transportation by addressing cost pressures related to COVID-19.
Expansion of Targeted Testing in Schools
Today’s announcement by Minister Lecce also included an update on the next phase of Ontario’s targeted asymptomatic testing program for schools, which is being expanded to all schools and child care settings that are resuming in-person learning.
Targeted asymptomatic testing in schools is intended to identify COVID-19 cases that may have otherwise gone undetected, reduce transmission into and within schools, and reduce barriers to getting a COVID-19 test.
School boards will communicate with families about the availability of testing, which will be voluntary and free. For students under 18 years, parent or guardian consent will be required.
Up to 50,000 tests per week are expected to be administered through this program.