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Ford’s Reduced COVID-19 School Funds Pushing Up Toronto Catholic Class Sizes, Putting Students At Risk, Teachers Warn

Reduced funding means up to 31 kids in some elementary classes

For a second year in a row, Doug Ford’s government required school boards to use their reserved funds to help protect students from COVID-19.

Now, one of Ontario’s largest boards has a reported $0 left in its reserves to draw on. And, it says, it has few options but to raise class sizes — even with COVID-19 cases emerging.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board, one of the largest boards in Canada, says it’s  facing a shortfall in provincial funding.

As funding is based on enrollment, and many students have left during the pandemic, TCDSB trustee Norm Di Pasquale said “our Grants For Student Needs funding was cut.”

The remaining funding blocks, he noted, have not filled the gap. And the reserves the Ford government directs boards to access have also been spent.

“Our Operating Reserve now sits at $0,” Di Pasquale told PressProgress. “We used the remaining $7.8 million to retain some staff to lessen the blow of our decreased enrolment. We also dipped into our IT reserve funding.”

“School Boards cannot maintain classes beyond what we are provided funding for and what provincial class sizes dictate,” the board noted in a recent statement.

In a statement to PressProgress, a spokesperson for the board confirmed, in addition to asking the Ministry for more funding, staffing is being reorganized. “When there are less students than anticipated, we have to re-organize our staffing to comply with Ministry requirements for funding.”

That’s meant putting more students in classes.

It’s affected almost every school.,” Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers President Julie Altomare-DiNunzio told PressProgress. “I’ve been getting emails and calls where there are 31 students in an elementary class and the physical distancing is impossible. The cap is 31 in grades 4-8, 20 in grades 1-3  and 29 in kindergarten. You can imagine that kindergarten class — where those kids don’t wear their masks.”

The board clarified all its class size changes have been “consistent with Ministry regulations.But Altomare-DiNunzio says that hasn’t stopped infections.

“Students’ desks are touching,” Altomare-DiNunzio said. “They’re not two metres apart. Physical distancing just can’t happen when you have that many kids in a class.”

According to the board’s COVID-19 dashboard, 60 of the board’s schools have reported COVID-19 cases since September, with a current total of 79 active cases and 96 resolved.

“Every September there is some reorganization involved, pre-COVID, but nothing as drastic as this. School boards are required to fill class sizes based on the funding that we get,” Altomare-DiNunzio said. “The Ford government has failed to provide the funding that they did last year to lower class sizes.”

The Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment from PressProgress.

 

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