Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to announce $2-billion for provinces and territories to safely reopen schools, as many parents have become increasingly anxious about sending their children back to classrooms this fall.
Mr. Trudeau is expected to make the announcement at a school in north Toronto on Wednesday, federal sources confirmed.
The funding comes in addition to a previously announced $19-billion aid package to provinces, known as the Safe Restart Agreement, to help them deal with the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their economies and health care systems.
Mr. Trudeau said in a tweet that he and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc spoke to the premiers on Tuesday about Canada’s response to COVID-19.
“We also talked about ways we can build on our Safe Restart Agreement to keep you safe as more workplaces reopen and our kids head back to school,” he said.
A senior federal government source said the Prime Minister told the premiers he respects provincial jurisdiction, but his government is willing to provide extra resources to keep children safe. The funding is to be allocated based on each province and territory’s number of students.
One provincial source told The Globe and Mail that provinces welcome the funding but that there is concern it is coming too late for schools to prepare and will lead to delays. The source said the money was only recently discussed, after a dozen first ministers calls took place and the $19-billion Safe Restart Agreement was already announced.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
It is unclear how provinces will use the money and even how quickly it can be put in place. Students in Quebec return to school later this week, and school boards in other parts of the country have been drawing up reopening plans with schools starting in a matter of weeks.
News of Wednesday’s announcement was first reported by the Toronto Star.
Back-to-school plans released by most provincial governments in recent weeks don’t lower class sizes for the youngest learners in the publicly funded systems, which teachers and public-health experts say will make physical distancing virtually impossible.
In Ontario, the government has mandated masks for middle school and high-school students but did not provide funding to lower class sizes in elementary grades, which can have classes of more than 30 students.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, have faced criticism from school boards, educators and parents in recent weeks for their back-to-school plan. The government, critics say, has not provided enough funding to lower class sizes or provide sufficient health and safety measures. Some boards have been told to redo their plans weeks after getting the green light from the Ministry of Education.
In a letter to Mr. Lecce late last week, Andréa Grebenc, chair of the Halton District School Board, wrote that trustees are looking for “consistency and clarity of vision so that all resources can be focused on implementing back to school plans.”
Mr. Ford has repeatedly defended his government’s plan as the best in the country.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the coming announcement “a welcome investment” and urged Mr. Ford’s government to cap class sizes immediately. “We can have #SmallerSaferClasses if we hire more teachers & [education] workers and line up more class spaces now. Continuing to penny-pinch on the backs of kids is not safe,” she said in a tweet Tuesday night.
The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest school district, will use a combination of government funding, $29.5-million from its reserves and $2.9-million for elsewhere in its budget to lower class sizes in elementary schools, particularly in those communities hardest hit by COVID-19. The board recently said that kindergarten classes in COVID-19 hotspots would have no more than 15 children and other elementary grades would be at 20 students.
Junior and senior kindergarten classes outside of COVID-19 hot spots could have as many as 26 children in a single space. In those schools, classes between Grades 1 and 3 will be capped at 20, while those between Grades 4 and 8 will have a maximum of 27.
Schools have been shut down across the country since COVID-19 started sweeping across the country in mid-March.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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