Education Minister defends government's decision not to reduce elementary school class sizes
BARRIE -- With just five weeks to go until the first bell rings on the new school year, parents are still weighing the possibilities presented to them last week by the provincial government.
Kristie Calway is a single parent who says she doesn't know whether sending her son to school in September is safe.
"I'm leaning towards having to send my kid which is unfair for his health, but I have no other choice," says Calway. "Do I keep him healthy, or do I not pay my bills?"
Calway says she's been left with very few options as the Ontario government moves toward full-day schooling five days a week for the first time since schools across the province were forced to close in mid-March.
"How are we supposed to homeschool our children and work full-time at the same time?"
On Tuesday, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce was in Oro-Medonte, defending the government's decision not to reduce elementary school class sizes.
"My message to parents is we have put $309-million more in place with strict public health policies that keep these kids safe, that introduce more screening, more testing, more cleaning of their facilities and I want them to know we will be there for them every step up the way," says Lecce.
"If the risk continues to rise, we will continue to make those investments. We just will not compromise the safety of children in this province."
Local union leaders, including Jen Hare, Simcoe County Teachers' Bargaining President with the OSSTF, says some classrooms could have more than 25 or 30 students inside, leaving very little room for physical distancing.
"Not changing at all, we're looking at class sizes up to 36 students," says Hare, "and in that space, there is just no room for physical distancing."
While Minister Lecce reiterated the province's hiring of 1300 more custodians and adding 500 public health nurses to schools, unions say teachers still fear for their students and families' safety.
"Its anxiety and apprehension and disappointment our members were really looking forward to a September where they could return and feel safe and be back with their students again, and that's not what we're going to see," says Hare.
Meanwhile, the minister vows to do whatever it takes to keep kids safe. He says the local health unit and school board will determine outbreak protocols if the virus is found in schools.
"If something happens in 30, 60, 90 days in the context of a second wave, we will not pause or hesitate to put in place the investments, the training, the additional staffing to keep these kids safe," says Lecce.