Province releases back-to-school plan

TORONTO – It is full steam ahead for Ontario’s Ministry of Education for back-to-school this fall. Minister of Education Stephen Lecce released his “Plan to Catch Up” for the 2022-23 school year on July 25.

The plan pledges a return to the “full school experience” for students including field trips and extra-curriculars. Both activities were limited for more than two years by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions.

Lecce touted his government’s highest amount of spending on education this coming school year, pegged at more than $26.6 billion. Included in that total is $2.1 billion for building or repairing existing schools, $304 million in limited-time funding for approximately 3,000 teachers, early childhood educators, educational assistants, and other education workers.

“Our plan starts with a return to in-person learning, on time, and with all the experiences students need and deserve like sports, clubs, and field trips. Nothing is more important,” Lecce said.

The government’s plan reiterates many previously announced funding commitments including $90 million for mental health, a $93 million increase to the Special Education Grand funding (increased to $3.25 billion), and enhanced tutoring support for students who are behind ($175 million).

Previously announced program changes like increased STEM-based learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in elementary grades and de-streaming the Grade 9 curriculum were also included.

Missing from the province’s plan were any details dealing with potential COVID-19 outbreaks in schools or mitigating spread of the virus at school. Mask mandates and much of the public health restrictions in schools were lifted after March Break 2022.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during a now-rare media briefing July 13 that the province is in a seventh wave of the pandemic, which is expected to peak in early August. Moore also said waves of the pandemic are arriving in Ontario in approximately three-month intervals.

Not covered by province’s back-to-school plan is labour concerns. Contracts for most education workers in the province expire on August 30. Negotiations have only begun between the major education unions and the Ministry of Education. Ontario was gripped with work-to-rule and work-to-contract actions – along with intermittent one-day labour walkouts – just prior to the March 2020 shutdowns at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The return to school plan does outline Statistics Canada data showing Ontario teachers made $6,000 more in 2020 than teachers elsewhere in Canada.

The first day of school for students at the Upper Canada District School Board and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario is September 6.

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