Roughly one month after Ontario schools reopened, the provincial government has announced it will be providing school boards in COVID-19 hotspots with an additional $35 million to hire more teachers and invest in equipment for online learning.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Monday at Queen’s Park alongside Education Minister Stephen Lecce. The premier stressed that his government has “spared absolutely no expense” in ensuring classrooms are safe for students.
“Everyone has been doing a tremendous job to keep the classrooms as safe as possible,” he said. “But we can't take anything for granted. We know there are certain areas of the province that are seeing higher community spread. The schools in those places, they need some extra support.”
The new funding will be split proportionally between all public school boards in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa—four areas that have seen a significant uptick in COVID-19 infections over the last month.
Of the 615 new infections recorded on Monday, 289 were in Toronto, 88 were in Peel Region, 47 in York region and 81 in Ottawa.
“Now we know the flu season, the second wave is upon us,” Lecce said. “This province is ready to bolster our planning, and to strengthen safety in those targeted schools.”
According to Lecce, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be receiving about $9 million of that funding, which could be used to hire about 120 teachers or purchase 11,000 more computers and tablets.
The TDSB has struggled throughout the last month to hire enough teachers to compensate for an influx of remote learning registrants, saying in mid-September that they still needed about 500 teachers to meet the demand. As of Oct. 2, the school board had said they have filled 94 per cent of those positions.
“For those students and families without a teacher since virtual school began on Sept. 22, we know how disappointing this has been,” the school board said in a statement last week. ”We are sorry that it has taken so long to get students set up in a classroom with a teacher and are doing everything possible to continue to place teachers so that learning can begin.”
As of Monday, 335 schools in Ontario have reported a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in Ontario. Three schools have been closed, including a Catholic school in Toronto.
Officials would not say what factors would be considered when deciding whether to close schools in a neighbourhood or region. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said only that things would have to increase “far more than we’ve seen up until now.”
The funding is part of a $1.3 billion plan to reopen classrooms. About $500 million of that money was unlocked from the reserve funds of various school boards and $381 million was provided by the federal government.