TORONTO - Parent groups and concerned community members rally in solidarity to protest the province’s plan to increase class sizes. Parents held coordinated demonstrations at several Catholic elementary schools across Toronto calling on the Ontario government and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) to halt the reorganization of class sizes.
At least 40 schools across the TCDSB are slated to have classes reorganized to meet pre-pandemic class size limits. It was at some of those schools, like Regina Mundi Catholic School where demonstrations took place. “The main message is that dismantling current classes to mix cohorts and create large classes is in direct opposition to the recommendations of the Covid-19 Science Advisory Table for Ontario”, said a concerned parent with children in the school system. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of other demonstrators.
The Advisory Table recommends several measures which include, cohorting, masking strategies and physical distancing to help minimize the spread of the virus among elementary school children. It also states: “These cohorts, should be as small as possible; therefore, the smallest class sizes possible should be implemented at the start of the school year to optimize learning”.
Parents are frustrated that the Ministry of Education and the TCDSB are ignoring these recommendations in favour of shuffling classrooms to ensure they reach the upper pre-pandemic limits. That means, classes that range from 23-24 students are deemed too small. As early as October 12, such classes could reach the cap limit of 31 pupils.
These protests come just one week after another demonstration outside St. Pius X Catholic School in Toronto’s west-end. The message was the same. Parents feel it is not safe to put more students in a classroom amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.
The province has introduced various measures to keep schools safe such as, masking, enhanced screening and improved ventilation. However, Ontario public schools account for one-third of active Covid-19 infections in the province. Furthermore, children under the age of 11 are not yet eligible to be inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine. As of October 5, the TCDSB reports 42 schools with active cases and a total of 69 cases, (63 students, 6 staff). One month into the school year, parents argue smaller class sizes should still be a priority. “Last year the Board prioritized student safety, this year, the Board seems to be prioritizing financial prudence”, the parent said. “Although the Board and the Ministry’s priorities have changed, our priority is still the safety of our children and their surrounding communities”, she added.
The TCDSB has not responded to our requests for comment – maybe they do not care. However, TECT president Julie Altomare-DiNunzio told the Corriere that the Board does not have the funds necessary to keep class sizes small. She, like many others, are concerned about the impacts of larger class sizes on student safety, stress, anxiety and the growing learning gap.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Pic from Holy Cross' Twitter profile