With Premier Doug Ford yet to release a plan for reopening schools, the Liberals at Queen’s Park got the jump on the government, unveiling ideas of their own.
Party leader Steven Del Deluca this week released a detailed, fully costed plan for students to return to classes.
“Today, the Ontario Liberal Party released a plan that I believe will help students go back to school in September and be safe and secure. So that will help the students, all of our teachers, administrators, across the province, all of our partners in education and also help the moms and dads out there who are all grappling with tons of anxiety right now, because with only five weeks left to go, we still don’t have a clear sense from Doug Ford about how our schools will reopen,” said Del DeLuca in an interview Monday.
The plan which the leader describes as ‘ambitious’ will cost approximately $3.2 billion, including hiring 15,000 more teachers to reduce class sizes at a cost of $1.3 billion, plus an additional 10,000 caretakers at a cost of $500 million. The plan also details issues such as transportation, personal protective equipment and virus testing.
What the plan entails for Waterloo Region is 900 new unconventional classroom locations, 750 additional educators, and 340 more caretakers.
“The choice is between students in schools or the chaos that Doug Ford’s unclear approach will create. We need to make it safe for students in Waterloo Region to learn – it is the only way they will thrive, and it will enable their parents to go back to work,” explained Del Deluca.
The plan remains vague as to what unconventional means for rural areas. Some alternative locations for these new classrooms could be recreation centres, public offices, theatres and other venues blending private and public domain.
“It strikes me some days that Doug Ford doesn’t necessarily value or prioritize public education the way that I believe a premier should, and that’s unfortunate,” said Del Deluca.
Acknowledging the plan is bold, he said quick action is needed with the school year normally just five weeks away at this point.
The Waterloo Region District School Board sent a letter to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce on July 24 requesting a significant increase in funding for the board.
In the meantime, some steps are being taken in the region, notes Chair Karen Redman.
“There’s no perfect scenario, and I think part of it is we don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. And there are people walking around that think that children, especially children under 12, cannot contract or pass on COVID-19, and yet the science says something different. So, I think the school boards are coming up with three plans so that parents have choice, but also so that if there’s an outbreak, and we have to go back to online learning, that the schools are prepared to do that.”