TDSB needs millions to ensure safe return to school in fall, says it may have to cut French

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it is preparing for new possibilities when school returns in September that may include no French classes and shortened school days.

In a new planning document being considered by the board, the TDSB also says that accommodating some proposed plans for the fall could cost as much as $250 million.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce outlined the province’s plan for students’ return to school in September last month.

He laid out three different models of instruction that boards should prepare for:

  • Full-time in-class teaching with COVID-19 prevention measures in place.
  • Full-time remote learning. 
  • A hybrid that would see half the school population in class each day and half learning online at home.

The TDSB is meeting on July 15 to hold preliminary discussions about what these scenarios could mean for the board and how much they might cost. 

The board said if it was to follow the hybrid model, it “will force parents to choose between educating their children and their own employment.”

In a new planning document being considered by the board, the TDSB said its reports show that if it were to group all elementary students into sets of 15 with one teacher, that scenario would require the hiring of nearly 2,500 additional teachers at a cost of $249 million.

If the TDSB were to end the school day 48 minutes early, that would reduce the cost to $99 million.

But in this scenario, the board said there would not be enough teachers to offer core French-language instruction to all students.

The board says final plans will be developed and submitted to the Ministry of Education on Aug. 4 in accordance with Toronto Public Health. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The board also said any unused space throughout schools would be needed to accommodate students in this type of setting with smaller class sizes.

However, even if classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 had 15 students, while 20 students were allowed in the remaining classes, the TDSB said French classes would still be unavailable.

The board would also need to hire 1,900 new teachers, which would cost $190 million.

If students were dismissed 48 minutes early each day, the TDSB would still need 200 new teachers at a cost of $20 million.

Safety most important for board and province

Both the provincial government and the school board have said safety is the most important thing to consider for any kind of return to school.

The board said the price of purchasing personal protective equipment, along with other pandemic-related expenses, will cost the TDSB more than $22 million for the first four months of the school year. 

The board said the Ministry of Education has not provided enough funding to even cover this shortfall.

“We have been actively planning for our return considering all possibilities, ensuring that student and staff well-being and safety is the priority,” the board said.

In response, Premier Doug Ford said the TDSB is getting $55 million more in funding than it received last year, and of that, $23 million is being allocated to more teachers.

Ford said he values input from the TDSB and all other boards across the province, but he wanted Ontarians to keep in mind that these are unpredictable times.

“Our goal as a government is to have kids in the classroom five days a week, but I can’t predict what’s going to happen two months down the road,” Ford said.

The Toronto board has formed an Integrated Return to School and Work Steering Committee and several sub-committees to plan and prepare for September.

The TDSB said it is also working with communities, including unions and federation partners, staff, parents/guardians and students.

Final plans will be developed and submitted to the Education Ministry on Aug. 4 in accordance with Toronto Public Health, the board said. 

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