The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) Board of Directors held a virtual meeting using the Zoom platform on September 25-26, 2020. Trustee Lucille Kyle, OPSBA’s Alternate First Nations Director, gave an acknowledgement that the meeting was being held on the traditional territory of the Indigenous peoples of Ontario.
On the evening of September 25, Ontario’s Chief Coroner and Coordinator of the Provincial Pandemic Response Dr. Dirk Huyer virtually attended the meeting to give an update on reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was joined by Dr. Jessica Hopkins, Deputy Chief, Health Protection, Medical and System Support at Public Health Ontario.
Education policy and program issues that were discussed in public session at the meeting are summarized below.
School boards across the province have been providing students with both in-class and remote learning options throughout September, although the model of delivery and start date has varied from board to board. The province is now posting information on COVID outbreaks at schools and child-care centres. The website shows the number of confirmed student and staff cases, as well a breakdown by individual school and daycare. It is expected to be updated every weekday. The information is similar to what was done for long term care facilities.
Communications, Government and Public Affairs
Throughout the summer months, government announcements and activity in the education sector were, as expected, significant. OPSBA and member boards continued to have regular correspondence with the government at multiple levels. Our advocacy efforts were focused largely on school reopening plans and funding.
OPSBA’s presence in both social media and traditional media was several times greater than the same period of time last year – further details are listed here below. For more, please see the links below:
The Legislative Assembly of Ontario reconvened on September 14, and for now, will follow the traditional sitting schedule of meeting Mondays to Thursdays until the winter recess on December 10, including two constituency breaks in October and November. The House met over the summer months in June and July on a modified schedule, mainly to pass pandemic-related legislation. The fall agenda will include a full-scale budget by November 15 and rent-freeze legislation.
Current Party Standings – 124 seats:
- Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario – 72
- New Democratic Party of Ontario – 40
- Ontario Liberal Party – 8
- Green Party of Ontario – 1
- Independent – 3
Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020
This legislation was introduced on July 8, 2020, by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark. The omnibus bill included changes to 20 Acts. Included are changes to the Education Act, the Ontario Educational Communications Authority Act and the Ontario French-Language Educational Communications Authority Act. Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act received Royal Assent on July 21, 2020. OPSBA’s Education Program and Policy Development Work Teams sent in a submission. Regulations that have recently been filed to support the legislation include:
Bill 204, Helping Tenants and Small Businesses Act, 2020
This legislation was introduced on September 17 by Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The government issued a news release entitled, Ontario Introduces Legislation to Freeze Residential Rent in 2021 that includes the backgrounder, Ontario Supporting Renters and Small Businesses in COVID-19 Recovery. Proposed changes to the Municipal Elections Act, Municipal Act, Election Act, Assessment Act, and Municipal Property Assessment Corporation Act are available in the September 21 OPSBA Legislative Update.
Policy/Program Memorandum 164
In mid-August, PPM 164 – Requirements for Remote Learning was released, which provided definitions of “Remote,” “Synchronous,” and “Asynchronous” Learning, and outlined Remote Learning Requirements for School Boards. School boards are to ensure the requirements of PPM 164 are implemented by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year and are required to report at the end of the school year on their activities. OPSBA’s Education Program and Policy Development Work Teams will be discussing the contents of this PPM at their meeting on September 30.
Full Legislative Updates are available on the OPSBA Connects blog.
On August 21, OPSBA’s Indigenous Trustees’ Council (ITC) met, as it does each August prior to the start-up of school. Not surprisingly, this year’s meeting occurred virtually via Zoom, as a result of the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. ITC members representing eight OPSBA member boards provided feedback from their respective districts and communities.
- The impact of the pandemic on Indigenous communities, and in particular, students and their families
- The importance of school board engagement with their local First Nation partners
- Education Service Agreements (ESAs) and the Reciprocal Education Approach (REA)
The ITC reaffirmed support for its identified Four Priorities: 1) Building Our Capacity, 2) Indigenous Student Well-Being, 3) Enabling Indigenous Education, and 4) Advancing Reconciliation.
Because of the nature of the evolving conversations and ensuing changing direction from the Ministries of Education and Health, school boards endured a significant time crunch at the end of August and beginning of September. To some extent, this is still being felt. This crunch impacted all areas of school board operations – finance, facilities, transportation, technology, human resources in terms of workplace accommodations (placement), hiring, classroom organizations, secondary timetabling, etc.
In terms of finance, information came late and continued to roll out. The Grants for Student Needs (GSNs) were released quite late relative to the recent past, coming in June. Legislative changes related to budgets, including the ability to use up to 2% of operating funding from reserves for COVID-19-related expenses, arrived in the middle of August, and additional funding announcements, including significant contributions from the federal government, came at the end of August. School boards were directed to not include the second half of the $760 million in federal funding in their budget submissions.
It was MOVED to: Direct OPSBA to advocate to the Minister of Education to create an immediate mechanism to address the deficiencies and inequities in funding across school boards to fund safe school reopening.
School bus driver shortages are a concern around the province. The Ministry of Education is supporting driver retention through the pilot program in 2020-2021.
The Ministry recently coordinated a survey of transportation consortia to gain an understanding of how the additional $20 million in transportation funding was spent. This money was intended to support the incremental cost of transportation, whether it be for new routes established to accommodate secondary cohorting, reducing the number of riders on buses to increase physical distancing, increased staff cost for enhanced cleaning, etc.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The ministry has started weekly PPE teleconferences with School Business Officials from across the province, with September 25 being the first. Main topics of conversation of the first meeting were logistics of delivery locations and timing and specific concerns on types of PPE (i.e. recalled hand sanitizer), and the method of return shipping these products.
A number of B and SB memos have been released since the last Board of Directors meeting in May. B & SB memoranda for 2020 and prior years can is available on the Ministry of Education’s finance website.
French as a Second Language (FSL)
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. There continues to be significant interest and motivation to support the ongoing efforts linked to the supply/demand issue of FSL teachers. Phase III ends on January 31, 2021, and the full report will be available by March 2021.
OPSBA has been recognized as a leader in developing workable solutions for addressing the labour market issue related to FSL teacher recruitment, hiring and retention. As a result, the Association signed an agreement with the Province of Ontario and the Federal Department of Canadian Heritage for three initiatives to support recruitment, hiring and retention of FSL teachers. The funding is for one year with the opportunity to apply for year 2 and 3 funding, once all deliverables from year 1 are met. Each of the approved initiatives stem directly from the research findings of the Labour Market Partnership Project. As such, it allows for the continuation of this important work once the three-year labour market partnership project is concluded. The initiatives that were approved are key drivers to assist in improving the supply and demand of French language proficient teachers.
The three initiatives 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
The research will occur in the fall across Canada. Every effort is being made to streamline the surveys and focus groups/interviews to be respectful of the current educational landscape.
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.
The Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health continues to share resources and materials to help to support students, families and staff. The Summit for Children and Youth Mental Health has been deferred to 2022.
OPSBA-Wilfrid Laurier University Joint Research Project
In early May, OPSBA staff partnered with graduate students from Wilfrid Laurier University to conduct research into the actions taken by school boards in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This research sought to understand and document boards’ successes and challenges in the deployment of remote learning. During this period, researchers also conducted regional interviews with 11 school trustees representing OPSBA’s five regions, the Indigenous Trustees’ Council and the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA-AECO). These interviews were designed to garner a more in-depth understanding of the personalized experience at the forefront of remote learning.
All but one board reported difficulty adapting to remote learning in the wake of COVID-19 school closures with nearly 80% calling the transition “challenging” and another one in six calling it “extremely challenging.” Facilitating synchronous learning, supporting students with special education needs and student mental health were the biggest challenges with 50 to 70% of boards considering these to be their most difficult tasks in a remote environment. Boards were very successful in providing devices to students who needed them but internet access proved more of a challenge for rural and remote communities in particular. In half of the responding cases, 75% of students or fewer were able to be reached at the onset of the school closures, with the primary reason given being lack of devices or reliable internet at home.
Communication with students, parents and board staff was successful likely because it largely expanded upon existing channels and practices. Additional support for students with special education needs, students with limited internet access and student mental health are needed.
Recommendations from the report include:
- Invest in infrastructure to ensure that all students have equal access to online
- Maintain commitment to providing devices to families and educators that require
- Ensure that students with unique needs are not left
- Ensure that students’ and educators’ mental health is considered and
- Provide further Professional Development days to ensure educators are well-versed in online learning
Canadian School Boards’ Association
The CSBA continues to meet remotely on a monthly basis, with the AGM now taking place October 2. OPSBA Past President Laurie French is running for a third term as CSBA President. Discussions regarding the format for the 2021 CSBA Congress continue.