August 13, 2020, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, provided an update on Ontario’s back-to-school plan. The update included “unlocking” $500 million in reserve funds for school boards, new investments to improve airflow, and mandating minimum expectations for those teaching remotely.
Earlier this afternoon, Premier Doug Ford announced an investment of $30 million to municipalities through the Connecting Links Program for 2020-21, to help build, repair or replace local roads and bridges. This funding will alleviate some of the added financial pressures on Ontario municipalities as they recover from COVID-19.
Following their announcements, Premier Ford and Minister Lecce responded to questions from media to address the province’s ongoing response to COVID-19.
Update on Ontario’s Back-to-School Plan
This afternoon, Minister Lecce and Dr. Williams provided an update on Ontario’s back-to-school plan. Details of the updated plan include:
- Access to reserve funds
The province is making available approximately $500 million in flexible reserve funds for school boards to draw from to support local priorities. School boards, which are typically permitted to use up to one per cent of their reserve funding towards operating expenses, will be permitted to use up to two per cent of this funding for the 2020-21 school year. School boards may also be permitted to use more than two per cent of the reserve funding, on a case-by-case basis. This funding may be used to cover expenses such as leasing additional spaces to use as alternatives to conventional classrooms or hiring additional educators.
The province will provide $11 million for four school boards which do not currently have reserves.
- Investment for improved airflow
Today’s announcement also provides a one-time investment of $50 million to support the improvement of ventilation in schools. The Ministry of Education is working with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to procure filters for HVAC systems. In older schools and portable classrooms where air circulation is an issue, portable air filtration units are an option.
For airflow improvements, the province will prioritize older schools and schools in areas of the province with a higher rate of COVID-19 cases.
- Additional funding and minimum standards for online learning
To strengthen the option of remote learning for parents who do not yet feel comfortable having their children return to school, the government is investing an additional $18 million to permit school boards to hire support staff dedicated to the provision of online learning.
The government is also mandating minimum expectations for school boards in the delivery of online learning, requiring that at least 225 minutes out of a 300-minute school day be dedicated to “synchronous live learning,” or a “Zoom-style classroom.” The remaining 25 per cent of the school day will be reserved for one-on-one or small group support.
Questions from Media
When asked about the possibility of delaying the beginning of the school year, Minister Lecce confirmed that he would be open to staggering school reopening for different grades if a board requested this.
In response to questions about reports that high school students in designated high-risk boards will only spend about 25-30 per cent of their time in a conventional classroom environment, Minister Lecce reiterated that the government’s expectation is for high school students in these boards to be in class at least 50 per cent of the time. The government is working with school boards to ensure that their programming is reflective of the government’s direction.
Reopening of Casinos
Following his announcement in Windsor-Essex earlier this afternoon, Premier Ford was asked about the government’s plan for reopening casinos, such as Caesars in Windsor, which has roughly 2,000 employees. Currently, casinos are subject to a capacity of 50 guests at a time for the entire facility due to stage three gathering size restrictions. Premier Ford confirmed that Cabinet had recently discussed a plan for safely reopening casinos, such as sectioning the building and permitting 50 guests within a section at a time. He added that the government continues to listen to the advice of health officials on this issue, but that Ontario is “not far away” from an announcement on relaxing restrictions on casinos.