Curriculum announcement spurs fears of local impact

MORRISBURG – Changes announced to Ontario’s education curriculum have prompted concerns about the impact on local schools in South Dundas. Ontario education minister Lisa Thompson announced sweeping changes to the education curriculum March 15th.

Highlighted in the changes is the removal of discovery math, an increased focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects, modernizing classrooms with expanded broadband internet, and a new health and physical education curriculum.

Other changes include increasing class sizes for Grades 4-8 by one student, and for Grades 9-12 by six students. Class sizes for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students remain unchanged. High school students will be required to take up to four online-based classes in order to graduate, and have financial literacy materials added to the mandatory careers and civics courses.

A province-wide ban on student cell phone use in schools will be put in place, and there will be a renewed focus on skilled trades in high school. More money for rising transportation costs are also on the horizon.

The new curriculum announced was the result of the province-wide consultation undertaken by the Ministry of Education and will be phased in over a four-year period.

Thompson said that over 72,000 people took part in the consultation process.

“The people told us what wasn’t working and what we need to protect,” she said.

When announcing the class size increases for Grades 4-12, Thompson said that “no teacher jobs will be lost with these changes.”

Local reaction to the curriculum changes was mixed.

“I am deeply concerned with the changes in classroom sizes in respect to small rural high schools,” said Joyce Latulippe, co-chair of the Seaway District High School parent council. “This creates another loophole that could deny children the opportunity to learn in their own communities.”

That sentiment was echoed by South Dundas deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner.

“I am concerned what the impact at Seaway will be. How will this impact students selecting courses? Rural students should have the same ability to get courses as urban students.”

Latulippe said that the class size increases are putting another roadblock in the way small rural high schools being successful.

“The announcement promoted skilled trades, and the government is investing in the agro-industry. Small rural schools like Seaway are where these opportunities are encouraged, and are thriving,” she said.

The new larger class sizes, combined with the provinces’ school closure moratorium ending June 30, 2019, have added to concerns about another round of upcoming school closures across the province, including in the Upper Canada District School Board.

Curriculum documents available from the Ministry of Education after the announcement did not say if the increased class sizes means that school occupancy numbers would be adjusted.

According to the Upper Canada District School Board’s most recent update on October 31st, Seaway DHS has a 59 per cent occupancy rate with 406 students enrolled in Grades 7-12. High school classrooms are presently rated at 21 students when calculating school occupancy.

Addressing a question about class sizes, UCDSB chair John McAllister told The Leader that the school board is in a wait-and-see mode about technical changes to school capacity numbers.

“Such changes are of interest to the board of course, and perhaps will be made clear once the province releases its budget,” McAllister said.

When asked if the class-size changes would spur another pupil accommodation review, McAllister said, “the board has moved beyond its difficult decisions of March 2017. It would not be our board’s intent or interest to either revisit or pursue any accommodation review discussions in the foreseeable future.”

In a statement from the UCDSB on March 18th, director of education Stephen Sliwa said that the school board is reviewing the specifics of the announcement.

“We know that the province has identified additional stakeholder consultations on some of the key factors tied to Friday’s announcement, such as class size and teacher hiring,” he said. “Arising from these consultations, we can expect that the Ministry of Education will provide further clarification and direction to all school boards in the weeks ahead.”

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