More Media Coverage of the Stress and Uncertainty facing Parents of Students with Disabilities on the Eve of the Labour Day Weekend

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

More Media Coverage of the Stress and Uncertainty facing Parents of Students with Disabilities on the Eve of the Labour Day Weekend

September 4, 2020

          SUMMARY

On the eve of the Labour Day weekend, parents of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario remain very anxious about what their children will face as schools re-open in Ontario over the next days. The Ford Government has still announced no comprehensive plans to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in school re-openings, even though it has been repeatedly advised that such a plan is needed. School boards, teachers and principals are all scrambling in the absence of that plan. This scrambling is made all the more hectic as the Ford Government made more announcements on school re-opening late in the summer which should have been made weeks ago.

Even days before schools re-open, some parents of students with disabilities still do not even know who their child’s teacher will be. How can a teacher properly plan to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening, including safe social distancing, if they don’t even know who their students will be and what their needs will be?

We and other disability rights advocates have succeeded in securing media coverage of these concerns. For example, yesterday, we were included in good reports on this issue on CBC national radio news, and in the flagship CBC national news program “The National

”. Below we set out a sample of some other recent reports on CTV national news, on CBC and in the Toronto Star and St. Catharines Standard, which either include the AODA Alliance or other disability advocates with whom we collaborate.

Here are a few reflections. First, from what we have seen, the Ford Government has not denied to the media or to us that it has no comprehensive plan to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in school re-opening. It has not denied that it has left it to each of 72 school boards to themselves figure out what to do, as they scramble to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

For yet more proof that the Ford Government is largely leaving it to school boards to figure this out, we set out below an excerpt from the Government’s August 27, 2020 “Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools.“

Second, when the media asked the Ford Government over the past days about the fact that it has no plan to ensure the full and safe inclusion of students with disabilities in schools, the Government repeatedly answered that it has allocated 10 million dollars to special education as new funding. This, in reality, is a tacit admission that it has no plan. If it had a plan, it would have answered reporters by saying it has a plan.

Moreover, as we have earlier emphasized, that 10 million dollars boils down to a paltry $34 for each student with disabilities. What can that tiny sum procure for students with disabilities?

The absence of a comprehensive provincial plan for fully and safely including students with disabilities in school re-opening means that 72 school boards will have to waste time and money duplicating efforts as they try to figure out how to solve the same problems.

Third, in the absence of a much-needed provincial plan of action, the Ford Government has a plan in place to advertise about its efforts on school re-opening. Below we set out an article from the August 26, 2020 Toronto Star covering this, and the criticisms of this use of public money.

Fourth, we must correct the $4 per student allocation that we earlier calculated, in light of a new Government funding announcement on August 26, 2020. The Federal Government gave the provinces a total of some 2 billion dollars to help with school re-openings. In the Ford Government’s August 26, 2020 announcement on how it would spend its portion of those funds (set out below), it announced an additional 12.5 million dollars for special education and mental health supports. If we assume that all that money is to be spent on students with disabilities, then the addition of that money to the 10 million dollars that the Ford Government earlier announced would bring the total to $22.5 million. If that is divided among a third of a million students with disabilities, that is $67.3 dollars per student for this fall.

$67.3 per student with disabilities, while larger than $34, is still paltry. There will likely be less than $67.3 per student with disabilities. It is reasonable to expect that a large proportion of Ontario’s 2 million students, and not just students with disabilities, will need mental health supports in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, a portion of the new 12.5 million dollars that the Ford Government allocated from the new funds it received from the Trudeau Government will go to students without disabilities.

So what are parents with disabilities to do in the face of all this stress and uncertainty. We remind you all that you can get helpful tips by watching the archived online video of the 3rd virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and Disability which the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition hosted on August 21, 2020. It has American Sign Language interpretation. It is also now captioned.

We welcome your feedback. We cannot give parents legal advice on how to handle events as they unfold. However, we want to know what you are experiencing, so we can draw on it to focus our advocacy efforts over the next days and weeks. Email us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

For more background on these issues, visit

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page and our education accessibility web page.

* The July 24, 2020 report on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening by the COVID-19 subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

* The AODA Alliance‘s July 23, 2020 report on the need to rein in the power of school principals to refuse to admit a student to school.

* The AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief to the Ford Government on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening.

* The widely viewed online video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, co-organized by the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance.

          MORE DETAILS

 Toronto Star August 26, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/08/26/parents-fear-pandemic-will-lead-to-more-exclusion-of-special-needs-students.html

Is Ontario’s plan ‘a formula for failure?’

Parents of children with disabilities fear their kids are being treated as an afterthought

Brendan Kennedy Toronto Star

After nearly six months of not being able to see her friends in person, Sumayyah Ahmed is even more excited about this school year than usual. She figures it might be “pretty weird” with all her classmates wearing masks and social distancing, but she’s going into Grade 8 so she and her friends will finally be the oldest kids in the school. “I’ve heard it’s the most fun year.”

Sumayyah’s mother, Lindsay Ahmed, is a little more anxious about what lies ahead.

“I’m feeling probably similar to everyone else,” she says. “I have no idea what the right decision is.”

Sumayyah, who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is also visually and hearing impaired, is among the estimated one-in-six Ontario students with special needs. Ahmed loves her daughter’s school – Robert Munsch Public School in Whitby – and she’s confident they will “do the best they can with what they’re given.”

But like many other parents, she still has so many questions and she’s frustrated with the lack of information. How will physical distancing requirements affect her daughter’s support person? What happens if there’s another shutdown and Sumayyah is forced to return to online learning, which, if it’s run as it was in the spring, will be mostly inaccessible to her?

Ahmed says it feels like students with disabilities are being treated as an afterthought, “which is usually the case.”

Ahmed isn’t alone. Parents and advocates of students with special needs say Ontario’s back-to-school plan doesn’t address their concerns ahead of this unprecedented school year.

“There was no systematic effort to figure out how to meet the needs of people with disabilities during COVID,” says David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

Lepofsky says he sympathized with the province back in March when they had to scramble to move classes online. He doesn’t fault them for their missteps then, but he says it’s unacceptable there is still no comprehensive strategy for supporting students with disabilities.

“We said to them in the spring: ‘You need a plan. You need to come up with ways to ensure that your distance learning meets the needs of those one-out-of-six students,’ and they didn’t. I’m not saying they did absolutely nothing, but there was no systematic strategy to deal with it. They basically left it to 72 school boards to each figure it out themselves. That is a formula for failure.”

Last month, the province announced $10 million of its school reopening budget would be used specifically to support special needs students in the classroom. The Ministry of Education has also encouraged boards to support whatever attendance option works best for special needs students.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is spending “more money than any other province on special education.”

The ministry also pointed out that they have increased funding for special education grants available to every school board, while creating the Supports for Students Fund, which can be used for “additional critical staffing needs,” including hiring more educational assistants.

Even with the additional funding, Lepofsky and other advocates fear the extra health-and-safety burdens on schools, coupled with the lack of a comprehensive plan for special needs students will lead to more students being excluded.

“What we’re worried about right now is with the return to school and principals scrambling there’s a real risk that some of them are going to decide, ‘I don’t know what to do with this kid. I don’t know if we can manage their social distancing. Mom, keep your kid home,'” he says.

“This is a festering problem that predated COVID and we are really worried that this fall it’s going to get worse as a way of coping with the failure of the provincial government to properly plan and resource the return to school.”

A provision of Ontario’s Education Act allows individual principals to prohibit a student from attending school if they believe their presence is “detrimental to the physical and mental well-being” of the other students.

Disability advocates have argued the provision is disproportionately used to exclude students with special needs, particularly those with autism. Last year, the Ontario government said it would look into the issue, but there is currently no provincewide policy and individual principals have broad discretion.

“There’s wild variations from board to board,” Lepofsky says. “Depending on where you live your kid gets a lot of due process, or none.”

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, says she has already heard from parents of autistic children whose schools have asked them to attend for less than a full day or only a few days per week.

“The message there is, ‘Gee, your kid is an awful lot of extra work, so let us get all the normal kids settled and then we’ll worry about you.’ That’s problematic,” she says.

The social impact of being excluded can be “devastating” for a student with special needs, Kirby-McIntosh says. “Especially in that first week.”

Kirby-McIntosh says she’s worried the pandemic will be used as a pretext for more exclusions.

“I’m very nervous about how this is going to unfold,” she says. “I think there’s going to be a lot of lawyers and education advocates who are going to be very busy this fall, and a lot of exhausted and exacerbated parents – and a lot of sad kids.”

The ministry did not respond to questions about the potential for more exclusions this year.

Angela Nardi-Addesa, superintendent of special education and inclusion for the Toronto District School Board, says the board has instructed its schools that pandemic protocols cannot be used as a reason to exclude a student.

“I want to make sure that all our staff know that nothing of what we do should act as a barrier for students with disabilities.” If a student is unable to wear a mask or to distance themselves from other students, she says, accommodations will be made.

“It is up to us as a staff, as a board, to figure out how to best support that student to keep them safe, as well as the staff.”

On top of her uncertainty and anxiety around her daughter’s return to school, Ahmed is also worried about what will happen if schools are forced to close again at some point this fall. Sumayyah, whose disabilities made learning by video nearly impossible, really struggled to keep up during the spring shutdown.

The video connection didn’t always work, and she had trouble seeing and hearing things properly.

“It was annoying and frustrating,” Sumayyah says.

“There was no plan for anyone, so of course the students with special needs were the ones who suffered the most,” Ahmed says. She hasn’t heard what, if anything, has been done to improve virtual learning for students with disabilities. “I’m going to assume there’s probably not a better plan.”

St. Catharines Standard August 23, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news/niagara-region/2020/08/23/transition-back-to-school-is-going-to-be-awful-for-special-needs-kids-advocacy-group-warns.html

Transition back to school is ‘going to be awful’ for special needs kids, advocacy group warns

By Allan Benner

Sun., Aug. 23, 2020

Christine Levesque won’t be sending her son back to school in September.

Considering the challenges her 10-year-old boy with autism faced when he was in class prior to the COVID-19 pandemic being declared, Levesque does not feel comfortable sending him back immediately when schools reopen.

She isn’t alone.

The Niagara Falls resident, who leads a group called Autism Advocacy Ontario, said the organization has been in contact with families daily, listening to their concerns about sending their children back to school.

Levesque said she was forced to pull her son, Larz, out of school last October after he slipped away from his teachers three times in one day when the school could not provide the support he needed.

She said school administration informed her in February a new support person had been brought in for Larz, but 10 days after he returned to class labour actions began to disrupt classes, followed by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Like most kids, Larz has been home ever since.

“If his needs weren’t being met before, how are they going to be met now with teachers who are under so much more stress?” Levesque wonders.

She also worries about worse-case scenarios that could arise, possibly leading to bullying related to the virus if children show symptoms.

Although parents of autistic children are typically advised to allow their kids to socialize as much as possible, Levesque said she is no longer concerned that her son may be too isolated at home.

She said Larz been thriving in the months he’s been home, and she’s heard similar stories from other parents through the advocacy group.

“As soon as these kids got out of schools and started spending time with their families, things started happening. Some kids started to communicate better,” she said. “In the last six months, I think the calm-down of everything has helped these kids tremendously.”

But she is concerned about autistic children returning to classrooms too quickly and finding a routine that’s different than before with “all these new expectations and hand washing.”

Levesque said she has been advising parents who contact the advocacy group: “Do not panic, and take your time.”

She said she reminds them that if they have a special needs child, they are in control of their child’s individual education plan, or IEP.

“It’s been this long, the transition is going to be awful. Let’s do it slowly,” she said.

She suggested sending children with autism back to the classroom for a half-day to start, and a full day a few weeks later, “and then we’ll see how it goes in October.”

Levesque said Autism Advocacy Ontario is developing a survey to ask families to discuss concerns they have that are yet to be addressed by school boards or any other advocacy group.

The Ontario Autism Coalition, too, has been working to advise families of special needs children concerned about a lack of guidance.

“The provincial government has announced no comprehensive plan to ensure students with disabilities are fully and safely included in their return to school, or to ensure that any distance learning that occurs this fall will be barrier-free,” said Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who works as a teacher at a Peel high school.

“As always, we have to take things into our own hands,” she said.

The organization teamed up with retired lawyer and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance chair David Lepofsky and ARCH Disability Law Centre executive director Robert Lattanzio.

Lepofsky advised parents to remain in contact with schools to ensure the needs of students are met — whether it’s assistance with wearing personal protective equipment or identifying any needs that may have changed as a result of the pandemic.

 CBC News August 27, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/parents-special-needs-back-to-school-1.5702709?ref=mobilerss&cmp=newsletter_CBC%20Toronto_1642_106268

Why some parents of kids with disabilities are making the ‘heart-breaking’ choice of at-home learning

Students with disabilities an afterthought in province’s plan, parent Lisa Thornbury says

Julia Knope

CBC News, Aug. 27, 2020

For months, Avery Thornbury, 14, has been looking forward to starting Grade 9 at a new school. In fact, she’s been so excited that she’s had her backpack ready by her front door since June.

“I just want the virus to be done,” she said.

“I just want to go to my school.”

But now — at least for the foreseeable future — that’s not going to happen.

Avery has epilepsy, so she has to be monitored for seizures. And with her cognitive delays, her mom Lisa Thornbury, says she’s working at a Grade 2 level.

Because her daughter has to be constantly monitored, Thornbury has decided to opt for Ontario’s online learning option come fall. She says there are holes in the province’s back-to-school plan for students with disabilities.

It’s a choice she calls “heart-breaking,” but ultimately necessary.

“We just thought that the risks outweighed the benefits,” Thornbury said.

Survey studies impact of COVID-19 on kids with disabilities

Thornbury says she’s spoken to other parents in the same situation who say “they’re really nervous, they’re afraid and they just don’t see that they have any other option.”

Parents of children with disabilities have cited issues such as the wearing of masks, questions about transportation for kids who require aid on school buses and the availability of educational assistants to help their kids when their in the classroom.

On Thursday, Statistics Canada released the results of a survey done in June looking at parents’ concerns since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who have kids with disabilities expressed higher levels of concern in all areas, particularly when it came to the school year and academic success for their children.

And what has made that even worse, Thornbury says, is what she calls “confusion” and “frustration” around the province’s back-to-school plans for children like Avery.

The plan, which was released on July 31, includes a combination of in-class and at-home learning for high school students, but the province has left room for each school board to tweak its own rules.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is still finalizing plans for children with disabilities, both for online and in class learning, according to

Angela Nardi-Addesa, a system superintendent for special education.

Nardi-Addesa says the TDSB is collaborating with other boards to ensure students with disabilities “will not be discriminated against,” while remaining aware that some may have trouble with wearing masks and physical distancing.

Thornbury says transportation is one of the questions that remains for parents of children with disabilities, given that they often require extra aid on a bus. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Thornbury says the Halton District School Board, which oversees Avery’s Oakville school, is also still finalizing its plans, leaving “many questions” around

transportation, educational assistants, and wearing masks for students with disabilities.

“My daughter can’t wear a mask for longer than 15 minutes without being completely frustrated,” she said.

But the alternative — sending her to a school where some students aren’t required to wear masks — felt too risky, leading her to choose online learning,

despite the fact that her daughter thrives at school.

“It’s kind of like a lose-lose situation.”

The province has promised more than $22 million for special needs and mental health, some of which is coming from the federal government.

But despite that funding, Laura Kirby-McIntosh, a mother, teacher and autism advocate, says the Ford government should have released its back-to-school

plans earlier.

“Students like my daughter here, who has an exceptionality, they’re one in six,” Kirby-McIntosh told CBC Toronto Thursday.

“So you have to be planning with these kids in mind from day one — you can’t leave it to the last minute.”

Her daughter will also be learning online, as her husband is immuno-compromised and is therefore particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

Kirby-McIntosh is now pushing for more clarity.

“I specifically called the minister of education today to discuss children with special needs,” she said.

“We’re going to make sure they’re able to get in the classroom safely, [and that] they have the same rights as any other child.”

Meanwhile, Thornbury is now preparing to have Avery at home for longer than originally anticipated, which means “basically home-schooling” and sitting

side-by-side with her during her virtual lessons.

In an effort to recreate the classroom setting, the pair also stick to a rigorous schedule, which includes singing O Canada every day, as well as morning announcements, field trips and recess.

“She thrives in a classroom,” Thornbury said.

And with the added challenge of also fitting her own work into her schedule, Thornbury said it’s going to be hard.

“It’s going to be challenging for sure.”

 CTV National News August 22, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/parents-advocates-for-children-with-disabilities-share-concerns-over-school-reopening-plans-1.5075783

Parents, advocates for children with disabilities share concerns over school reopening plans

Molly Thomas

Ottawa Bureau Correspondent, CTV National News

TORONTO — As Canada prepares to reopen most of its schools, some parents and advocates across the country are voicing safety concerns for children with disabilities returning to the classroom.

Dartmouth, N.S. resident Meredith Tasiopoulos says her five-year-old son Eli, who has special needs, is excited to return to school. However, she still isn’t sure what returning to school will look like for him.

Eli has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak or walk on his own. Before the pandemic, school was the only place he received therapy and when he stopped attending school, Tasiopoulos noticed that the progress he made started to decline.

“We certainly see Eli’s progression slow down as school stopped and he stopped receiving these supports,” Tasiopoulos told CTV News.

Since Eli is more vulnerable to COVID-19, Tasiopoulos said she is still waiting on detailed instructions for what her son’s school year will entail post-pandemic lockdown.

“We don’t want him to be excluded and we’ve worked so hard for our kids to be included and that would be a major step back,” she said. “He loves school, Eli loves school so much.”

In Ontario, a town hall meeting was held on Friday to demand a province-wide plan that will focus on the one in six students who live with a disability.

David Lepofsky, a chair member of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance said during the meeting that students should be given assurances that they will not only be safe at school but also fully included with the curriculum and activities.

“They have the right to be fully and safely included in the return to school this fall, that won’t happen by accident,” Lepofsky said.

Some parents across Canada are also raising concerns, protesting their provincial governments to implement more staffing and rigorous safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Teachers and parents in Calgary and Edmonton are urging the Alberta government to hire more staff to make class sizes smaller.

“Last year, my younger daughter’s class had 36 to 38 kids in it over the course of a year. There’s no room in the classroom to spread out,” Kyla Stack, a concerned mother protesting in Calgary, told CTV News.

Some child psychologists say if parents are anxious about the return to school, so will their kids. Experts suggest parents practice physical distancing and wear masks around the house now so it won’t seem strange in schools.

Some health professionals are encouraging the return to classes all while the correct precautions are taken into account.

While parents may feel anxious about sending their children back to school, infectious disease specialist Sumon Chakrabtri said it is time for kids to return to the classroom.

“The time has come that we need to move forward with this step and it’s going to be a bit nerve racking but, in the end, it’ll be successful,” he said.

Toronto Star August 26, 2020

Bus drivers left guessing over safety protocols

Salmaan Farooqui The Canadian Press

School bus drivers in Ontario say they need guidance from the province and school boards on COVID-19 safety protocols including social distancing, use of face masks and sanitizing routines.

With just a few weeks until the start of the new school year, the drivers, many of whom are retirees, say they still have many questions about what they’re supposed to do when a child on the bus is sick.

“We know how important it is to get kids to school, but we don’t want to be that weak link, don’t want to be responsible for an outbreak or something in our broader based community,” said Debbie Montgomery, president of Unifor Local 4268, which represents the bus drivers.

“We want to get this right and we want to mitigate as many risks as possible.”

Montgomery said provincial regulations don’t allow for Plexiglas to protect drivers, who are being asked to take on more responsibilities such as taking attendance or ensuring that kids keep their masks on.

She said some drivers have already received manifests with more than 70 students for September.

“How do I ensure, in rush-hour traffic all by myself with 72 kids on that bus, that Johnny is keeping his mask on, Sally isn’t hitting the kid next to her,” said Montgomery, who said in an earlier news release that the drivers “feel like sitting ducks.”

In some locations, Unifor said that bus drivers have been told they don’t have the right to refuse a ride to a child, even if the student is visibly ill.

With the added risk and responsibility, Montgomery said compensation will be a sticking point moving forward.

She pinned the blame on the Ministry of Education and school boards for not responding to demands that the union put out earlier in the summer.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not immediately provide comment.

 Toronto Star August 26, 2020

Premier touts back-to-school ad campaign

Ford government mum on cost as critics say spending could have gone toward reopening

Kristin Rushowy Queen’s Park Bureau

Premier Doug Ford says a new ad campaign about the reopening of schools this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic is needed to keep parents informed – but he won’t yet say how much the government is spending.

Critics slammed the government for the expense, saying the province should be using those funds to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes or to purchase personal protective equipment for staff.

“Everything is going to be transparent, the accountability office is going to have all these numbers,” Ford said at an event Tuesday afternoon at a Catholic school in Etobicoke. “It’s critical that the parents know, you know, it’s not about playing politics like the other ones are doing, I believe in communicating to the parents, the teachers and as well, to the students.”

The public awareness ads, about the safe reopening of public schools, include radio spots that say, in part: “that’s why the Ontario government asked doctors, health officials, school boards and educators to help build a comprehensive plan to keep our kids safe. Working together, our plan includes physical distancing, putting more nurses in schools, masking, enhanced cleaning and hand sanitization and other measures to ensure the well-being of students and school staff.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said “instead of spending taxpayer money telling the public that kids will be physically distanced in schools, the premier should be spending taxpayer money providing funding to school boards so that they will actually be able to implement physical distancing.”

He said “this government is notorious for wasting money on ad blitzes that promote their own agenda … The bottom line is, if the premier is serious about providing comfort to parents, he should immediately redirect spending taxpayer money on vague ads and instead give it directly to school boards who need it.”

But Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said “since the beginning of COVID-19, our government’s public awareness campaign has been a critical tool in helping change public behaviour and stopping the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to inform the public about the health protocols that are in place” such as improved hand hygiene and mandatory masks starting in Grade 4.

The government says the ads were approved by the auditor general, and meet provincial treasury board guidelines.

“We inform the people, we inform the parents,” Ford said. “I think it’s a no-brainer … Running ads is the right thing to do, we’re going to continue running ads.”

In London, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called it “appalling that Doug Ford refuses to invest in smaller, safer classes but is doling out a secret amount of public money on wasteful propaganda to promote his crowded classrooms scheme … Every dime spent on these partisan defensive ads should be spent on a safe September, instead.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said “Ford needs to come clean and tell Ontarians how much his vanity ads cost. This is money that could be funding teachers, special education professionals and caretakers.”

He said “for every $1 million Doug Ford spends on ads he could be funding 11 teachers, or 13 special education professionals, or 20 caretakers,” or technology, or masks for students.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s four big teacher unions said they met with Labour Minister Monte McNaughton on Monday and left with “no clear commitment from the minister to address the specific serious health and safety concerns raised there surrounding the reopening of the province’s schools next month,” including class size and physical distancing, as well as busing.

“The unions raised the urgent concern that there are no clear health and safety standards being set out or ordered by the ministry so that its inspectorate and workers can apply known and commonly accepted precautions as schools reopen. The ministry confirmed that no such standards have yet been set.”

They said “in light of the shortcomings” in the back-to-school plan, they’ve asked the labour ministry to limit class sizes to 15 to 20 students and only allowing cohorts of a maximum of 50 people for staff and students.

The province has made about $900 million in funding available to school boards to hire teachers and custodians and purchase personal protective gear for staff. About $500 million of that money is from boards’ own reserves.

 Excerpt from the August 26, 2020 Ontario Government School Re-Opening Guideline

Originally posted at https://www.ontario.ca/page/operational-guidance-covid-19-management-schools

Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools

Find out what will happen if there is a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at a school.

… Special education

In order to ensure that students with special education needs are supported as schools reopen, school boards will need to consider additional planning and transition time for students with special education needs to support a smooth transition.

School boards should support attendance options including offering daily attendance to students with special education needs for whom adapted timetables or remote learning may be challenging based on the student’s special education needs.

School boards should work with partners to develop local protocols for school access by regulated health professionals, regulated social service professionals and paraprofessionals for the purpose of delivering school-based supports and services. Protocols should include support for remote delivery where in-school delivery is not possible.

Scenario: Student with special education needs in a special education class (congregated or integrated class) has needs that conflict with COVID-19 safety protocols

Recommended action by teacher

The teacher should:

Meet pro-actively (face to face or virtually) with parent/guardian and special education staff to anticipate and discuss possible changes to accommodations in the Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Consider additional transition time to support smooth transitions

Recommended action by principal, the principal should:

Ensure coordination of staff and supports for student needs as necessary, for example, support staff and PPE

Ensure and coordinate environmental cleaning and/or disinfection of the space and items used by the individual(s)

Support planning for possible online learning

Inform transportation of accommodations as needed

Inform special education superintendent or designate of accommodations as requested

Engage and support in updating the IEP as necessary

Recommended action by school board, the school board should:

With partners, ensure consistent practices across the system regarding students with special education needs (that is, access by regulated health professionals and service providers and paraprofessionals)

Ensure continued access to assistive technology

Recommended action by parent and student, the parent and student should:

Work pro-actively with the school to anticipate and discuss possible accommodations to support the needs of the student

Continue to adhere to current infection prevention and control practices

Communicate regularly with the school to inform daily routines

 August 26, 2020 Ontario Government News Release

Ontario Newsroom

Ontario Newsroom

News Release

Additional Funds Enhance Ontario’s Robust Back-to-School Plan

August 26, 2020

Funding will be used to complement provincial health and safety measures already in place

TORONTO — The Ontario government’s back-to-school plan, developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health officials, is being further enhanced by additional federal investments and resources to support the return to class in the fall. Today’s federal announcement provides $381 million to Ontario, on top of the nearly $900 million provided by the province to support provincial back-to-school plans.

“Ontario’s investments lead the nation in supporting priorities like more cleaning, physical distancing, testing, and hiring of staff to ensure a safe reopening of our schools this September,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “Today’s investment by the Federal government complements the already landmark investments made by our government in support of safe and healthy schools in Ontario.”

The federal funding will support several priority provincial initiatives:

Reopening Plan Implementation – $200 million

  • $100 million to complement the health and safety components of school reopening plans, in consultation with local public health units, including the

hiring of custodians, HVAC, improvements, internet connectivity for students and other local needs.

  • $30 million to support additional PPE for schools.
  • $70 million for the temporary hiring of educators as required.

Student Transportation – $70 million

  • $44.5 million in support of the Driver Retention Program (DRP).
  • $25.5 million for route protection and to help reduce the number of students on buses.

Special Education and Mental Health Supports Enhancement – $12.5 million

  • Will allow boards to hire and train additional staff and provide more mental health supports for students.

Additional Public Health Nurses – $12.5 million

  • Supports up to 125 additional nursing positions in public health units across the province to help schools manage potential COVID-19 cases.

Remote Learning – $36 million

  • Ensures that every school board offering virtual learning has a dedicated principal and administrative support for both its secondary and elementary virtual schools.

The province is also setting aside $50 million for any future pandemic learning needs, to ensure that Ontario is prepared for every scenario this Fall. Pending federal approvals in December, the Ministry of Education will announce the second half of the payment later this year for the remainder of the school year.

QUICK FACTS

  • Ontario’s COVID-19 website includes resources to help stop the spread, sector specific resources, including helpful posters, mental health resources, and other information.
  • On July 30, 2020 the government released the Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools,

which was developed in consultation with leading medical experts and approved by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. This plan committed over $300 million in funding to support the safe reopening of Ontario’s schools, which is part of the evolving layers of protection the government is providing to students, parents, staff, and the communities they live and work in.

  • The provincial guidelines provide a baseline and school boards are encouraged to adapt them to meet local needs and support students and families. They include:
  • In-person classes for elementary school students five days per week for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Masking for students in Grades 4-12.
  • Focus on cohorting and limiting student contacts.
  • Adapted secondary school delivery for designated boards.
  • On August 13, the government announced more than half a billion dollars in supports to school boards to ensure schools across the province will reopen safely in September and to protect students and staff.

August 26, 2020 Memo from Ontario Education Minister to School Boards on New Funding for School Re-Openings

Memorandum To: Chairs of District School Boards

Directors of Education

Secretary-Treasurers of School Authorities

 

From: Stephen Lecce

Minister

Nancy Naylor

Deputy Minister     

Earlier today, the Federal Government announced the Safe Return to Class Fund providing the Province of Ontario with first phase funding supports equal to $381 million.

This investment complements the already landmark resources of more than $900 million provided by the province to support provincial back-to-school plans.

The purpose of this memo is to provide information on this first phase of federal funding.

Additional Teaching Staff

Funding of $70 million will be allocated to school boards reflecting a base funding amount of $125,000 per panel as well as projected total 2020-21 Average Daily Enrolment (ADE). This one-time funding is for non-permanent teachers and supply teachers. The funding should be used for time-limited positions. See Appendix A for board-by-board allocations.

School Reopening Emerging Issues

In recognition of the meetings we have had with each school board to discuss the safe reopening of schools, funding of $100 million will be allocated to school boards to augment the health and safety of school reopening plans. This funding is designed to be responsive to varying local issues and may be used to support a broad range of activities such as additional hiring of staff (such as custodians and other school-based staff), leasing of community-based spaces, improving air quality and additional technology and broadband supports. This funding will be allocated to school boards reflecting a base funding amount of $125,000 per panel as well as projected total 2020-21 ADE. See Appendix A for board-by-board allocations.

Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

As the safety of students and staff continues to be a key priority in the reopening of Ontario schools, the ministry is investing a further $30 million in funding for masks and PPE. This funding will continue to be supported through the centralized supply chain to secure these critical supplies.

Transportation

The ministry recognizes that school boards are facing unique student transportation challenges for the upcoming school year as a result of COVID-19. To support school boards in ensuring enhanced health and safety measures, $25.5 million will be provided to assist in reducing the number of students on school buses to support physical distancing, as well as addressing other pressures school boards may face in transporting students as a result of COVID-19.

This $25.5 million in funding will be allocated to school boards proportional to school boards’ 2020-21 Transportation Grant allocation. See Appendix A for board-by-board allocations.

The ministry recognizes that the student transportation sector may be facing a greater driver shortage this year. As such, $44.5 million will be set aside to support ongoing efforts in school bus driver recruitment and retention for the 2020-21 school year. Further details on the driver recruitment and retention funding will be shared shortly.

A total amount of $70 million will be provided for student transportation to enhance health and safety measures for school buses and to ensure service stability for students and families as schools reopen.

Remote Learning

As parent surveys are indicating more families may be choosing remote learning for part of or all of the upcoming school year, the ministry will be supplementing the $18 million investment announced on August 13, 2020 by a further $36 million. This additional funding will ensure that where school boards choose to provide remote learning, dedicated funding supports will be provided to hire more principals and school administration supports.

In addition, where it is projected that a school board will have more than 1,500 pupils attending virtual schools in 2020-21, by panel, they will now also generate vice-principal funding to ensure appropriate school leadership is available. Furthermore, the five per cent virtual school attendance funding assumption used to calculate the original $18 million investment has been updated to ten per cent to reflect higher than expected enrolment in the remote program.

Where school boards have a need greater than what is provided through the total remote learning funding amount of $54 million, they may access funding provided under School Reopening Emerging Issues. See Appendix A for board-by-board allocations.

 

Additional Special Education and Mental Health Supports

To further support students with special education needs and support the mental health needs of students, the ministry is providing school boards with an additional $12.5 million in funding investments. This is flexible funding to address local needs including the purposes as outlined in memorandum 2020: B11. Each district school board’s projected allocation for this funding is set out in Appendix A. The allocation reflects base funding of $100,000 per board and a top up based on ADE. This formula provides both smaller and larger boards with the ability to implement meaningful special education and mental health supports.

 

Additional Public Health Nurses

As announced on July 30, the ministry continues to work with colleagues in the Ministry of Health to ensure public health capacity is expanded to support school reopening, including 500 new public health nurses through an initial investment of $50 million. Additional funding of $12.5 million is also being provided to support up to 125 additional nursing full-time equivalents (FTEs) in public health units across the province, including a combination of Registered Practical Nurses (RPN), Registered Nurses (RN), and Nurse Practitioners (NP).

The additional FTEs in public health units focus on supporting the school and child care restart plans, with a focus on meeting the demand of schools, school boards, child care centres, and parents/teachers for information, guidance, case and contact management, infection prevention and control, and outbreak management and response.

 

Future Pandemic Response Fund

Given the continued uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 virus and wanting to ensure there is prudence in our plan, the ministry will be holding back $50 million to address future pandemic education needs. Details on this will be provided at a later date.

In the coming weeks, school boards will receive a Transfer Payment Agreement (TPA) for the new Priorities and Partnerships Fund (PPF) investments reflecting the allocations noted within.

Pending federal approvals in December, the Ministry of Education will announce the second phase of the federal funding in the coming months for the remainder of the school year.

We appreciate all that school boards are doing to reopen schools, and we will continue to work together to support the health and safety of students and staff.

Thank you for your ongoing partnership.

Sincerely,

Stephen Lecce                    Nancy Naylor

Minister                         Deputy Minister

Attachment

c:    President, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

Executive Director, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

President, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

Executive Director, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

Executive Director, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

President, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE)

President, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

President, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

General Secretary, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

General Secretary, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

President, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

General Secretary, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

Chair, Ontario Council of Educational Workers (OCEW)

Chair, Education Workers’ Alliance of Ontario (EWAO)

President of OSBCU, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)

Co-ordinator, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)