Local MPP Lisa Thompson has announced that Ontario is providing more than $27 million in COVID-19 support areas for the four school boards in her riding.
This funding comes from an additional $381 million investment provided by the federal Safe Return to Class Fund. Although transmission in schools has been low, this funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health and hire more staff.
“We all want our children to return to in-person education, as soon and as safely as possible,” Thompson said. “These funds will help obtain that objective as we continue to work through the pandemic.”
Monies allocated in Huron-Bruce for COVID-19 relief and technical devices include:
Bluewater District School Board: $10.37 million
Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board: $3.85 million
Avon-Maitland District School Board: $9.47 million
Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board: $4.05 million
With this additional funding, Ontario is providing more than $1.6 billion across the province to better protect students, staff and families.
As more students return to in-person learning, Ontario, on the best advice of experts, is introducing additional measures to further protect students and staff, including:
· Province-wide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, using a combination of lab-processed PCR and rapid antigen tests;
· Mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3, including outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
· Enhanced screening of secondary students and staff;
· New guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after; and
· Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.
“To protect Ontario students and staff, and with the aim of reopening all schools, we have again strengthened our plan with tougher measures and new investments,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “We agree with parents and medical experts that kids need to be learning in class – alongside their friends and teachers – as it is crucial for their mental well-being and development. We will continue to follow expert medical advice and work to get all schools open, for children in all regions of our province.”
Ontario’s plan to safely reopen schools draws on the advice of leading health experts and the best available data. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and leading medical and scientific experts, including the Hospital for Sick Children, support the safe return to in-person learning for students and staff and are encouraged by Ontario’s experience in safely reopening schools in September. This was evidenced in the data on COVID-19 cases in schools during the Fall, at a time of lower community transmission.
Targeted asymptomatic testing has helped to identify cases early, inform public health action, and manage outbreaks. Expanding access to targeted asymptomatic testing will be a valuable tool for local public health units and schools. To support the expansion of targeted asymptomatic testing, the Ministry of Education has procured test collection capacity for up to 50,000 tests per week, to be deployed at the discretion of local public health units in collaboration with schools.
To address labour needs and high rates of staff absenteeism, the Ministry of Education has worked with the Ontario College of Teachers to introduce a new temporary certificate to help stabilize staffing levels in our schools. This will allow school boards to employ eligible teacher candidates when there are no occasional teachers available from their current lists. With this important change, we are helping schools with operational challenges to remain open. This decision underscores the shortage of available certified teachers in the province, following the hiring of over 3,400 net new temporary teaching positions.
To date, Ontario has supported:
* the hiring of 3400 teachers (with an additional 800 projected to be hired);
* the hiring of 1400 custodians (with an additional 400 projected to be hired);
* the hiring of over 500 principals, vice-principals and admin staff to support new virtual schools;
* the hiring of up to 650 educational assistants, mental health workers and professionals to provide special education and mental health supports; and
* the purchase of over 23,000 HEPA filters and 20,000 portable HEPA units, and nearly 3,000 other ventilation devices.
The COVID-19 resources provided to school boards to support safe and healthy learning environments are in addition to the landmark investment of over $25.5 billion in education, which represents an increase of over $700 million for the 2020-21 school year.
In recognition of the additional costs facing many families during this period, Ontario is providing support through an expanded Support for Learners program. Since the start of the pandemic, Ontario has allocated nearly $900 million in direct financial support to families. Applications under the Support for Learners program close on February 8, 2021.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has invested more than $42.5 million in student mental health, including an additional $10 million announced on January 20, 2021, to respond to the extension of virtual learning.