For parents and children, back to school in September is always met with a combination of anxiety, excitement and a little relief. We all know, however, that this year will be different as it is set amidst a global pandemic.
As a parent of five children all attending public school this year, I understand and share the anxiety faced by moms and dads in Waterloo Region who are now making tough decisions as in-class learning resumes in Ontario. Like many others, our family has decided to pursue this option over remote learning. I would like to commend all the staff in our local school boards for their amazing efforts in preparing for the first-day of class.
I am happy to share with educators, parents and students that Ontario’s robust back to school plan has been developed carefully in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric experts. It is a living document that can be augmented and adapted to apply the best advice as it emerges, and we continue to announce important updates to make sure our school boards have the resources they need.
This plan has been fully endorsed by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, and is supported by Waterloo Region Public Health officials. Since the beginning of this pandemic when schools were quickly closed, the provincial government has strictly relied on public health and scientific guidance to reduce community spread and protect the most vulnerable.
Our back to school plan is no different. We are making over $300 million in evidence-informed investments that will ensure that all students and staff have a safe school environment on day one. This includes funding to have safe class sizes, up to 1,300 additional custodians, 625 public health nurses, school buses with enhanced cleaning, improved ventilation and surveillance testing of students in our secondary schools. Also, school boards are enabled to use up to $496 million in reserve funds to hire more teachers and access additional community space, and we are partnering with the federal government to provide additional funding for local priorities. These are nation-leading investments.
For many parents who are choosing remote learning instead this fall, our government is significantly strengthening minimum expectations so that all students can receive a quality, consistent and accessible education.
Just like most parents, I will continue to monitor the situation in our schools and rely on the guidance of public health and front-line educators to ensure the health and well-being of all students.