Just over a month remains until students return to school to begin the 2020-21 school year. Ontario students have been physically out of the classroom since March 13th. Schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with students learning from home. With only a few months remaining in that school year, keeping kids out of the physical classroom was a tough call, but the right one to make.
Throughout May and June, we kept hearing that the Ministry of Education’s plan to begin school in the fall would be released soon. That announcement was kicked down the road week after week until minister Stephen Lecce finally made an announcement on June 17th. His announced plan wasn’t a plan though, as it placed the onus on individual school boards to create three plans: one for full-time, in-class learning; one for full-time at-home learning; and one that is part-time at-school and part-time at-home. The decision on which plan to use was vested with the medical officer of health at each local health unit. At that time, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said he backed the hybrid model for September for local schools.
As the province moved into Stage Three of its reopening strategy, the government’s tune has changed. The messaging from premier Doug Ford and Lecce has moved from local officers will make the decision to a strong encouragement that it will be full-time, in-class schooling come September. Even local health officials have moved their messaging to support full-time, in-class schooling. Meanwhile school boards across Ontario are saying that full-time school is the only option that is viable. Trustees with the Upper Canada District School Board, a heavily rural board, are parroting what the government is already saying and stating the obvious notion that they will need money to make it happen. That is disappointing. Board officials should be meeting with municipalities and parents to express and discuss inventive and creative ideas whereby our school and rural communities can work together to come up with solutions to meet social distancing needs.
Lecce alluded on July 23rd that his plan will be announced this week. Which plan? He already announced that his plan is to have school boards come up with a plan. There’s another plan?
Premier Ford has called Lecce a “rock star minister” for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, we question that assessment. A star can handle crisis and non-crisis situations alike with success and knows how to plan ahead. So far Lecce’s education plans have been nothing but a failure. Students and families deserve better.
*Note: Education Minister Stephen Lecce is set to make an announcement on July 30th with the province’s education plan for the fall.