Ontario Demands Better: Reduce Class Sizes to Keep Schools and Communities Safe

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The Ontario government’s “plan” for reopening schools essentially amounts, in most elementary and middle school grades, to sending 30 students and a teacher back into a room for 6 hours/day with poor to no ventilation and probably only enough space for 30 cm of distancing between desks. This is shameful and demonstrates a reckless and disturbing lack of care for the health and safety of our children, teachers, school staff, and communities.

We have evidence from countries and regions that went back to school in the spring to show that it CAN be done safely, without a surge in cases. The evidence suggests that the way to do this (along with other measures) is SMALL CLASS SIZES. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, Greece, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and British Columbia offer examples of this:




Meanwhile, Israel offers an example of a country that went back to school with full-sized classes, and had disastrous results, going from well below 100 cases a day to over 1500 daily (see articles linked above). (Note: some point out that it is difficult to blame this increase entirely on schools reopening, since bars and other public spaces reopened at the same time. It is worth pointing out that in Ontario, schools are also set to open within several weeks of bars and other public spaces).

Is this government counting on this plan achieving smaller class sizes because parents with the means to do so will pull their children out of school for at-home or private options (thereby undermining our public education system)? In communities that are hardest-hit by COVID already due to socio-economic inequities, most parents will not have the resources to keep their children at home or to turn to private options. Meanwhile, Ontario families with the greatest privilege and, generally speaking, the most power to advocate for a properly funded education system, will opt out of a system that fails to protect them.

This is not acceptable.

The most up-to-date report from Sick Kids on reopening Ontario schools stresses that the government MUST prioritize reducing class sizes (“COVID-19: Guidance for School Reopening,” https://www.sickkids.ca/PDFs/About-SickKids/81407-COVID19-Recommendations-for-School-Reopening-SickKids.pdf :

- “Addressing structural deficiencies, such as large class sizes, small classrooms and poor ventilation, must be part of any plan to reopen schools“ (pg. 2).

- “Smaller class sizes should be a priority strategy as it will aid in physical distancing and reduce potential spread from any index case… Decisions should take into account the available classroom space in addition to the number of exposures that would occur should a student or staff test positive… Where needed, the use of non-traditional spaces should be explored to accommodate smaller classes in order to allow daily school attendance. This may necessitate additional teacher/educational resources” (pg. 10).

The evidence suggests that with smaller class sizes, we might actually have a shot at remaining in school full-time this year. Even for a government that doesn’t want to spend its dollars on the public good - wouldn’t it be cheaper to spend the $3.2 billion now or whatever it will take (https://ontarioliberal.ca/steven-del-ducas-students-in-schools-action-plan/ ) and avoid the enormous costs to the healthcare system and the economy when this absurd “plan” fails?

As parents, grandparents, students, teachers, school staff, and community members, we DEMAND a back-to-school plan that we can trust to give us a chance at staying in school this year. Families must not be forced to choose between risking their safety and opting out of our publicly-funded education system.

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