The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) Board of Directors held a virtual meeting on Zoom on February 27, 2021. The meeting opened with an acknowledgement that participants in the meeting were connecting to the meeting from numerous traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples of Ontario.
Education policy and program issues that were discussed in public session at the meeting are summarized below.
Updates were provided on recent developments related to labour relations.
A number of important B and SB memos have been released since the last Board of Directors meeting in September. B & SB memoranda for 2020-21 and prior years can be accessed on the ministry website.
COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream: Education Related (CVRIS-EDU) Projects
Approvals have started to roll out for the $700 million federal COVID-Related Resilience Infrastructure Stream (CVRIS) that was first announced at the end of October 2020. There is an embargo in place on any public announcements and there were more requests than there was available money, so not all requests will have been approved. Further guidance is coming in a ministry memo, and because projects need to be complete by December 31, 2021, boards will want to start their work as quickly as possible.
Additional Funding for School Reopening
Federal funding was announced in the February 1, 2021 B1 memo entitled, Federal Safe Return to Class Fund and Expanded Targeted Testing in Schools. This was the second half of the federal safe return to class fund and totalled $381 million. The funding is to focus on priorities to support the learning, health and safety of students for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. The B Memo announcing the funds was supported by an SB Memo, asking for information to inform the collaborative purchasing of equipment to support improved air quality and ventilation in schools as well as technology to support student learning.
The breakdown of the funding is as follows:
$50 million – to support the acquisition of additional portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and other immediate options to improve air quality and ventilation, including air quality monitors or other retrofits, repairs or upgrades to provide immediate improvements to ventilation and airflow, with an emphasis on poorly ventilated spaces (such as portables and schools with no mechanical ventilation or with inoperable windows).
$64.55 million – to support health and safety. The funding can be used to support expense associated with acquiring PPE and critical supplies and equipment (CSE) supplies, including for student transportation, beyond what has been provided through the MGCS supply chain.
$5 million – to address transportation related cost pressures related to COVID-19
$10 million – to support school nutrition but through the Ministry of Children, Community and Social services. It is intended that this funding will support remote learners.
$62 million – to support summer learning opportunities – details are yet to be released on that.
$60 million – to support online learning, and it appears that allocation will be going to TVO/TFO.
$80 million – to support devices and connectivity to ensure students can access learning
$6.45 million – to support equity initiatives, focused on supports for Black and Indigenous students, students from low socio-economic backgrounds and students with special education needs. Details are yet to come on this funding.
$33 million – for future pandemic related needs.
$10 million – to support student mental health. No board by board breakdown was provided, but it was communicated that this money was being partly distributed to boards and partly distributed to Kids Help Phone.
The Association’s Indigenous Trustees’ Council (ITC), has had three meetings since the last OPSBA Board of Directors meeting held in November. On December 3, the ITC met virtually and garnered a large turnout, including Indigenous trustees, trustee observers from member boards, Indigenous student trustees and OPSBA staff. There was a board-by-board report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and issues previously identified, such as broadband connectivity, remote and virtual learning, mental health and funding, continue to be a concern. It was noted that keeping Indigenous students engaged is already a challenge and remote learning makes it more difficult.
On January 6, a smaller group consisting of ITC members and OPSBA’s Northern Regional Chair, as well as OPSBA staff, met virtually to discuss issues emerging from the previous ITC meeting, and to provide information and data for the January 21 Northern Regional Meeting, with ITC members being invited to participate. At the Northern Regional Meeting, discussion occurred around connectivity for remote learning access for First Nations students, mental health needs and required support for First Nations, and the impact of the pandemic on many First Nations. OPSBA and ITC representatives met with Northern MPPs by Zoom on February 11 to share Northern Ontario issues and concerns, with a strong emphasis on Indigenous issues.
ITC members have also participated in the re-established Ministry of Education “Indigenous curriculum revision” writing sessions, which has up until this past school year been paused. The focus at the Ministry of Education session was on furthering the “Indigenizing” of Grades 1 to 3 curriculum, with an emphasis on consulting traditional knowledge keepers as professional resources.
Reciprocal Education Agreements (REAs)
Legislation now requires boards to negotiate REAs. Related legislation has now been in effect for a year and the Ministry of Education recently conducted a review of REAs.
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario returned on February 16, 2021. The legislature will sit for the next four weeks before adjourning for a March Break constituency week and is set to run until June 3, 2021. Constituency weeks are also scheduled for April 5 to 8 and May 24 to 27, 2021.
It was noted that the Ministry of Education is providing boards with deadline flexibility regarding the approval of 2021-22 School Year Calendars. Recent amendments were made to Ontario Regulation 304 to update the change in March Break for this year only. Boards were also recently sent a memo asking them to update this year’s calendars to reflect the changes made over the course of the year (First Instructional Day, PA Days, March Break etc.).
The government introduced Bill 251, Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021 and the Ministry of Education has asked education stakeholders to answer a questionnaire to aid in the development of an anti-human trafficking policy framework for the provincially-funded education sector. OPSBA’s Policy Development Work Team will convene to discuss this and the role school plays in protecting students and supporting survivors.
Recent legislation and regulations that OPSBA is following include:
- Bill 216, Food Literacy for Students Act, 2020
- Bill 172, Education Statute Law Amendment Act (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)
- Bill 246, Safer School Buses Act, 2021
- Ontario Regulation 7/07: Student Trustees
- Ontario Regulation 463/97: Electronic Meetings And Meeting Attendance
- Ontario Regulation 176/10 (Teachers’ Qualifications) and Regulation 298 (Operation of Schools – General)
2021-2022 Grants For Student Needs / Ministry of Finance Pre-Budget Consultations / Provincial Budget
In mid-January, OPSBA sent in a submission in response to the Ministry of Education’s 2021-22 Education Funding Guide, as well as to share key areas that we know are of importance to student well-being and achievement. OPSBA’s Education Program and Policy Development Work Teams provided the lead on this submission with input also gathered from students, our Indigenous Trustees’ Council, business officials within our member boards, and senior OPSBA staff. The Association also connected with the Council of Senior Business Officials (COSBO) and are aligned in many of our recommendations. The submission was supported by a news release and backgrounder, which are all posted on our website. The government also conducted pre-budget consultations seeking input from Ontarians. The consultation included an opportunity to share written submissions and to participate in an online survey that contains a question about funding priorities. Options include improving education for students, building more hospitals and schools, and bringing broadband to underserved areas. OPSBA President Cathy Abraham presented at one of the regional consultations held via Zoom and OPSBA did send in a version of its GSN submission for this consultation. The spring budget is to be delivered to by March 31 at the latest.
Virtual Advocacy Days
The Association secured dates throughout February and March for OPSBA’s Executive Council to participate with one provincial party caucus at a time. A representative from the Indigenous Trustees’ Council and provincial student trustee leaders joined the Executive Council. More information can be found on OPSBA’s website.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at OPSBA
In November 2020, the Board of Directors supported a motion to hire an external third party to conduct an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Audit. The Association has announced that it has hired Turner Consulting Group to conduct the audit.
Communications, Government and Public Affairs
An overview of recent media activity and OPSBA’s future advocacy and awareness planning was provided. OPSBA continues to coordinate monthly conference calls with school boards’ communications staff.
Future of Education
The pandemic has magnified a number of provincial issues related to successfully implementing equitable models of virtual learning. In the past, OPSBA has created discussion papers to help advocate and lead the dialogue on key educational issues. OPSBA, through the Education Program Work Team, is now creating a new discussion paper as a follow-up to A Vision for Learning and Teaching in a Digital Age, with feedback currently being received from member boards’ trustees and staff. This paper will help engage the government and education partners in looking proactively beyond the pandemic, to guide a vision and propose a set of actions to respond to the impact of the pandemic on student achievement and well-being.
French as a Second Language (FSL)
Work on Phase III of OPSBA’s FSL Labour Market Partnership Project was concluded as of January 31, 2021. The Final Report of the Partnership Project will be made public this spring.
Given that labour market partnership funding is mandated for three years, OPSBA has submitted a funding proposal to the Ministry of Education to extend the next steps in the Partnership’s work.
There are three additional initiatives currently underway, funded by the federal and provincial government through the Department of Canadian Heritage FSL Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. There are:
- Development of an FSL Teacher Recruitment guide for English Language School Boards
- French Language Assessment Resources
- Supporting Principals to Address Challenges in Hiring and Retaining Qualified FSL Teachers
Final reports are due to the Ministry of Education by March 25, 2021, and will be made public by late April 2021.
FSL Working Group
The FSL Provincial Working Group had its first meeting in two years on December 9, 2020. The meeting was dedicated to the Canada-Ontario Agreement, which is a requirement to flow dollars federally to the provinces to support FSL education and professional support for educators. There will be an additional meeting in spring 2021.
Children and Youth Mental Health
The Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health met on November 30, 2020, to share organizational updates, explore areas that need collaborative support and to identify any themes that can be addressed or championed collectively. School Mental Health Ontario continues to expand its support and resources provided to school boards.
New Grade 9 De-Streamed Mathematics Course Consultation
OPSBA was approached to review and provide feedback regarding the new Grade 9 mathematics course. As per past practice, a non-disclosure agreement was signed. OPSBA requested that school boards identify math experts to assist OPSBA staff in reviewing the high-level overview, including the strands and expectations. Feedback was submitted to the Ministry of Education on February 5, 2021.
There is a sense of urgency to receive the new curriculum as quickly as possible in order for school boards to provide the training and support for the mathematics teachers. There are also continuity issues as students move from Grade 8 to Grade 9, complicated by COVID-19, and the recent change to the Grades 1 to 8 mathematics expectations. The transition conversations have become even more important to support student success.
OPSBA’s Project Compass is reviewing the Association’s internal governance practices and processes. The Project is being led by 1st Vice-President Michael Barrett and 2nd Vice-President Kathleen Woodcock, and will include opportunities for trustees to provide input which will be used to inform recommendations to be brought to the 2022 Annual General Meeting.
Canadian School Boards Association (CSBA)
The National Trustees Gathering on Indigenous Education and CSBA Congress will take place virtually in July 2021. Both events will be virtual and are being organized and hosted in collaboration with the Canadian Association of School System Administrators (CASSA), and promise to be unique and interactive.
The CSBA Board of Directors last met virtually on February 8, 2021. Current key items of national importance include broadband connectivity, anti-racism initiatives, and mental health.
The Association is also working to strengthen collaboration with the National School Boards Association in the United States, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, CASSA, and student trustees, including Ontario’s OSTA-AECO.