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The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) Board of Directors held a virtual meeting using the Zoom platform on May 23, 2020. President Cathy Abraham gave an acknowledgement that the meeting was being held on the traditional territory of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce virtually attended the meeting to give an update on the Ministry of Education’s response to COVID-19 and future steps that will be taken prior to the re-opening of public schools. He also conducted a Q&A session with President Abraham and gave an overview of the current tables and regular calls with education sector leaders that have been established and that the government has been accessing for advice over the past weeks. Minister Lecce committed to connecting with the tables in a weekly basis going forward.

Education policy and program issues that were discussed in public session at the meeting are summarized below.

COVID-19 Pandemic Planning

Since the state of emergency declaration on March 17 and the initial closure of schools on March 19, OPSBA has been regularly connecting with its internal and external stakeholders. Decisions on the school closures made by the government, and the Ministry of Education, have been based on the advice and guidance of Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. The Deputy Minister (DM) of Education connects weekly with stakeholders, including OPSBA and the other trustee associations. President Abraham has been in touch with Minister Lecce, and OPSBA staff are in regular contact with his political staff as well as ministry staff.

OPSBA’s latest COVID-19 updates

In our conversations with government, we have emphasized the need for OPSBA, school boards, and trustees to be included in discussions around the re-opening of schools, and other aspects of the pandemic response. Issues that we have discussed include, but are not limited to, ensuring equity in our approach to distance learning, mental health supports for students, and funding for school boards’ response to the pandemic.

The government recently released Ontario’s Framework for Continued Learning and OPSBA’s Executive Council and Policy Development and Education Program Work Teams will be part of a the coordinated response to transition students and staff back to in-class learning when it is deemed safe to do so.

In addition, there are currently several provincial working tables that include stakeholders from across the sector. These tables are discussing a number of issues related to the return to school plan including:

  • When, where and which schools to reopen?
  • How to reopen schools?
  • Continued supports (including mental health) for students, parents and staff
  • Appropriate volume and proximity of students and staff, classroom set up
  • Catch-up, review and remedial opportunities including expansion of summer offerings
  • Continued professional development for staff on distance learning
  • Supply inventory of safety equipment
  • Use of personal protective equipment
  • Cleaning & disinfecting schools
  • Transportation
  • School cafeterias, breakfast and other food programs
  • Use of outdoor space for instruction
  • Childcare and afterschool programs
  • Increased and unexpected costs including technology/connectivity given to students and families
  • Assessment, report cards, and EQAO testing
  • Access to schools for retrieval of personal belongings
  • Remote learning challenges, including access to technology, synchronous learning, etc.

OPSBA staff have recently been successful in applying to have two or three Masters level students in Applied Political Science do a summer research project for the association, with a focus on equity of access to K-12 education as a result of the pandemic.  We will have more information in the near future as these students, under OPSBA direction, will be reaching out directly to school boards as part of the project. We expect this to help inform our advocacy efforts in this key area.

OPSBA also continues to connect with the Canadian School Boards Association and the other provincial associations. Staff recently participated in a webinar hosted by UNICEF entitled Opening the Doors to Children and Youth: Using the new Global Framework for Reopening Schools in Child and Youth Serving Spaces. The Framework can be accessed here.

Communications, Government and Public Affairs

OPSBA continues to have regular contact with senior government officials, political staff, and politicians of all parties in the legislature. We continue to stress the need for OPSBA, school boards, and trustees to be included in discussions around re-opening of schools, and other aspects of the pandemic response. OPSBA communications staff have been in regular contact with member board communicators to ensure they are kept up to date with the latest provincial news regarding the pandemic’s impact on public schools.

The Association’s media coverage since the February Board of Directors meeting has largely been focused on collective bargaining and the pandemic situation. For more, please see the links below:

Media Statements and News Releases

OPSBA Media Activity

Legislative Update

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario was to have a full constituency week that aligned with March Break but MPPs were called back on March 19 following the province’s state of emergency declaration* on March 17. Since that time, the House has met only a few times to extend emergency measures and introduce additional pandemic-related legislation. A small group of MPPs met on March 25 to allow the Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips, to release the March 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update. The House was adjourned until April 14 for a one day session and then recently resumed on May 12 to again renew the emergency declaration and sit for a reduced Question Period. The government is now resuming twice-weekly Question Periods, to be held every Tuesday and Wednesday, until June 4, which is when the House is scheduled to rise for summer. 

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca recently announced an updated list of critic portfolios that includes newly elected MPPs Lucille Collard and Stephen Blais. MPP Kathleen Wynne remains the Liberal Education Critic and John Fraser will remain as House Leader.

*The Ontario government declared an emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA). This has been extended until June 2 and includes a number or orders including the closure of certain establishments and size of public gatherings.

Recent Relevant Legislation and Regulation Changes

Full Legislative Updates are available on the OPSBA Connects blog.

Ontario Education Services Corporation’s (OESC’s) Trustee Professional Development Program

OESC recently relaunched their Trustee Professional Development Program with each of the 21 online modules updated with the latest legislation, education policy and research. The modules are primarily intended to support trustees, but are also useful for directors of education, board staff and other stakeholders. New this year is a Certificate of Completion feature. OESC invites trustees who have completed the entire program to apply for a Certificate of Completion. This will be sent to trustees in recognition of their commitment to leadership and the good governance of Ontario’s education system.

The modules are available at https://modules.ontarioschooltrustees.org/.

Education Funding

A number of B and SB memos have been released since the last Board of Directors meeting in late February, including memos regarding salary continuance for occasional and casual staff, financial reporting requirements, supply chain management contacts, budget planning/class size, in-year Grants for Student Needs (GSN) adjustments and voluntary redeployment of staff. B & SB memoranda for 2020 and prior years can be accessed at https://efis.fma.csc.gov.on.ca/faab/Memos.htm.

2020-21 GSN
The GSN announcement continues to be pushed back. Though some clarity on funding requirements for next year was gained with the completion of central collective bargaining, the impact of COVID-19 on school board operations next year is still quite unclear. School board budget submissions will likely be given extensions into the summer.

Student Transportation
Transportation funding has continued to flow to boards in spite of there being no requirement to transport students. This is presumably to mitigate against an extreme shortage of bus drivers in September. School boards have made agreements through their consortia with operators to continue to pay a percentage of contract amounts so that drivers will not be laid off through this closure period.

Capital Construction
Capital construction has resumed in many boards, but there has been no communication yet from the ministry on how to handle the impacts of the delay in construction and increase in cost associated with the four-week shutdown of construction projects.

French as a Second Language (FSL) Labour Market Partnership Project

Phase III of the FSL Labour Market Partnership Project has continued and all partners are engaged in virtual meetings to support and facilitate action plans related to the recommendations and next steps from the Phase II report. Currently, school boards are being surveyed regarding hiring practices related to using French language proficiency assessments. Phase III ends January 31, 2021.

In addition, the provincial government and the federal Department of Canadian Heritage have signed an agreement with OPSBA for three funded national projects to support recruitment, hiring and retention of FSL teachers, the first phase of which runs from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021:

  • 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

Children and Youth Mental Health

School Mental Health Ontario continues to expand its support to school boards and resources can be found on their website. OPSBA participated in a virtual meeting of the National Roundtable Group regarding School Based Mental Health and Well-being K-12. The meeting allowed for the provinces to share current experiences, efforts and identified systemic issues to support students and families during the pandemic for further discussion. Issues of equity and access for students and their families were consistently identified.

Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health members continue to share resources and materials for supporting students, families and staff. The Summit for Children and Youth Mental Health has been deferred to 2022 and discussions will be held to determine if there needs to be a further change once there is a better understanding of the trajectory of the pandemic.

Anti-Bullying Strategies

OPSBA provided a comprehensive submission to the Ministry of Education on April 30, 2020 regarding their consultation on bullying. The focus of the OPSBA submission, which was informed through feedback from the Association’s Policy Development and Education Program Work Teams, was on current school board anti-bullying strategies and ongoing efforts. One of the key messages was linked to the importance of shared responsibility and ownership with all stakeholders and education partners.

OPSBA AGM

Due to the ongoing crisis, the Board of Directors made the decision to postpone our June 4 to 6 Annual General Meeting to a date and format in the fall that is still to be determined. Our annual Education Labour Relations and Human Resources Conference that was scheduled for April 30 and May 1 was cancelled.

Canadian School Boards’ Association

The CSBA continues to meet remotely and has cancelled the annual Congress for 2020, with the AGM now taking place in September. Congress 2021 will occur starting July 7, 2021.

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