Joel Harden MPP / Député, Ottawa Centre

Government of Ontario

MPP Harden on School Reopening

Published on July 10, 2020

Parents, caregivers, students and educators are all rightly concerned about the government's lack of a plan for reopening schools in September. As critics have pointed out, the ‘plan’ they have provided failed to actually give any real guidance or support to School Boards, and the few details provided are nearly impossible in practice.  

Funding for the 20/21 school year is status quo, with minor adjustments to restore some funding that was cut -- funding that many parents and education workers fought hard to have restored. School boards are being forced to come up with their own plans based on vague ministry guidelines, with less than $20 million in additional funds from the government, spread out across all 72 boards, barely keeping up with inflation. 

There is no new money to add teachers or other staff in this ‘modified’ model, and limited funding to help Boards replace and restore technology.  

This is not acceptable. Everyone agrees that public health is paramount under COVID19, but families have been juggling work and child care for months, and we need imaginative proposals that allow kids, education staff, and parents to return to some level of normalcy. 

Otherwise, parents, notably women, are likely to leave paid employment, and kids will suffer as they miss out on crucial learning. As Alex Munter (Head of CHEO) has said, kids need a full return to school, and staff deserve the support required for it to be safe.

We are disappointed that the Government did not collaborate with the frontline educators, staff, students and families about re-opening. The Minister has said families will have a ‘choice’ about returning to school. But we know that many parents can’t choose to stay home and support their kids if they don’t like the re-opening plan, and it is unrealistic to add zero new teachers and expect teachers to juggle students who are rotating between classrooms and emergency distance learning. There is also little regard for students with special needs or facing other obstacles. 

Families have been doing their best to get through this challenging time, but as we look to a Fall return, we need the government to step up with supports. 

What are we doing about it? 

Our Official Opposition Caucus has been clear that in order to prioritize the health and well-being of our students, their families and school staff, the government must meaningfully consult with parents and front line educators to come up with a concrete plan and commit the funding to support it. You can read more about our proposal and concerns in an op-ed from the NDP Education Critic, Marit Stiles. 

We need a safe and equitable return to school for kids. And we should be planning for 5 days of in class learning, as long as we safely can. 

On July 8th, I asked the Minister of Education in question period about the need for a plan to support students with disabilities when classes resume. Students with disabilities have already been hit particularly hard, as not all distance learning platforms are accessible, and in-class resources are harder or even impossible to access. I emphasized this government to create a plan to support students with disabilities in consultation with the disability community. 

We’ve also put forward an emergency action plan that would help get kids safely back to class five days a week in the fall and work for parents and teachers. That plan, captured in a motion tabled July 14th by Marit Stiles, includes steps like hiring more educators to allow for smaller class sizes and funding for extra supports for students who are struggling or have special needs and for school upgrades that will help with infection control. Click here to read the text of her motion.

In addition to hiring more staff and funding extra support for students and school upgrades, our emergency action plan to get kids back to class includes: 

  • Maintaining job-protected leave and benefits for parents until school and child care are fully up and running again
  • Funding to help keep the child care sector afloat
  • Funding for more school buses to ensure physical distancing
  • Making use of public infrastructure to support the re-opening of schools and daycares
  • Ensuring ongoing access to emergency child care for essential workers
  • Bringing together students, parents, education workers, unions and schools board in an advisory group to help guide COVID-19 recovery in schools
  • Addressing the needs of students from Black, Indigenous and racialized communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19
  • Ensuring all workers have access to paid sick leave

Get involved

  • We have a petition calling on the government to develop a safe plan to re-open schools and childcare centres, which you can sign here.
  • On Friday the 17th, we are hosting a Facebook live discussion with education experts on what a safe reopening looks like. Join us on Facebook, ask questions and hear about what the experts are saying. More details here.
  • We are also in the process of planning an online town hall on this topic where you can share your stories and thoughts on a safe reopening. Please RSVP to the event and you will get an email with details on how to participate. Click here to RSVP.