TORONTO - Parents are fed up! Yesterday, they rallied outside of Queen’s Park to express their grave concerns over the reorganization of classes. They oppose changes that increase the number of students per class and pose greater risks to the health and safety of children in the classroom.
Across the city, concerned parents and students have demonstrated outside local schools on various occasions in protest of disrupting classrooms and placing more students in classes as the Board makes cuts to teaching staff. Parents argue that they are the ones fighting for the health and well-being of students as the Board and Ministry of Education (MOE) attempt to juggle the funding and staffing issues.
It appears their pleas fell on deft ears at the local level, so they headed for the top, Queen’s Park and the Minister of Education. The exercise may have been a waste of their time and efforts. A spokesperson for the Minister told the Corriere: “While the Ministry of Education provides the framework, funding and flexibility needed to support school boards in meeting class size requirements for all grades across the province, it is the responsibility of the school board to make the appropriate staffing decisions to meet these standards and to organize classes accordingly”.
The spokesperson also reiterated that Ontario is providing a projected $25.6 billion in Grants for Student Needs (GSN) funding to support students in the 2021-2022 academic year alongside the “$1.6 billion in additional funding to protect schools against Covid-19”.
Furthermore, she emphasized that “over $300 million was dedicated to school boards for more staffing to allow for greater distancing, as well as allowing them to use up to 2% in their reserves to support safe schools…to hire more staff to support their schools”.
So, what is different in this academic year as the pandemic persists? According to the TCDSB 2021-2022 Preliminary Teacher Staffing Projections, student enrolment projections are approximately 87,656 pupils. That represents an overall decrease of 3,568 students. The TCDSB did not respond to our request for most current numbers for student enrolment.
In any case, at roughly $12,000 of GSN funding per student, a decrease of 3,500+ pupils would have a significant impact of approximately $ 42,000,000 on funds and the Board’s staffing decisions to meet class size requirements for all ages.
The TCDSB maintains that it uses a set of parameters to arrive at school-based staff allocations. These include the MOE’s Primary Class Size requirements and that “staffing allocations must adhere to legislative requirements, including collective agreements in place with our bargaining units.”
Yet, amid the fourth wave of the pandemic and information by Ontario’s Covid-19 Science Advisory Table and medical experts which assert that smaller class sizes are vital to protect children, the board is moving forward to fill classes to the maximum cap.
This would see the “elimination of temporary lower COVID-related class caps in high incidence areas” according to the staff projections report.
For instance, classes with 15-20 students could now increase to a maximum of 29 pupils in Kindergarten. Some grades could reach the size cap of 31 students.
This is especially distressing for parents since children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
All the while, parents continue to stand up for the physical and mental health of their children and ask the TCDSB and the MOE to pause the reorganization of classes for this academic year. Guy Renzetti, a concerned parent argues, “both the MOE and Board should maintain their integrity and align their actions with the expertise they claim to follow”.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Pic from the nocuts2021 Instagram group