Deputy Premier and minister of education Gordon Wyant addressed details of the available emergency funding for school divisions this morning, as students and staff across the province return to classrooms for the first time since spring.
“I think school divisions have done a remarkable job in preparing for back to school, to ensure students and teachers are safe. This funding will certainly enhance their ability in a number of areas,” said Wyant, during a live video news conference on Sept. 8.
A total of $51 million in funding has been approved for classrooms to use in providing a safe return to school, said a provincial press release, including $41 million provided from provincial funding and $10 million from school division savings.
Wyant broke down the details of the funding allotment, including:
- $19.1 million for sanitization, including the hiring of 191 staff;
- $6 million for equipment and furniture;
- $13.2 million for supports for immunocompromised students, including the provision of 150 teachers and staff;
- $9.5 million for increased distance learning capacity, including the addition of 102 teachers and staff;
- and $4 million for technology upgrades.
The province is expecting to see a total of 443 additional staff to be hired, both teachers and custodial staff, in addition to the 200 additional staff expected to be hired as a result of increased funding in the 2020-21 budget.
“We know that a number of school divisions have already taken some steps to engage additional staff, not just with respect to sanitation but with respect to providing distance learning,” said Wyant.
Additional staff and funding will be distributed according to individual school divisions, said Wyant, and the hiring process is currently ongoing.
Wyant was unable to confirm if the additional staff will be utilized to lower classroom sizes, as he said the decision on how to implement staff will fall on individual school divisions.
The ministry also shared that there are no confirmed strategies on how to handle substitute teachers, although an increase in need is expected.
“School divisions have budgets for substitute teachers, and we really don't know at the present time what the demand will be [but] we will continue to assess that as we go forward,” said Wyant.
The ministry has approved 46 applications to receive funding from school divisions, independent schools and historical high schools, with funding promises expected to be delivered soon. The next intake of applications will be due on Dec. 1.
A total of $64 million in the COVID-19 emergency fund available to schools remains, said Wyant.
“I think, in what we’ve announced today, is where I think priorities are not just for the Ministry of Education but for the school divisions,” said Wyant.
Considerations on the redistribution of grants to school divisions will also be delayed this year from September to January, to ensure proper enrollment numbers will be included.
Addressing concerns and details
Wyant also addressed a number of questions and concerns during the video press conference, including the unrest about the province’s back to school plan over the past few weeks and the frustrations expressed by some teachers with the ministry’s approach to the plan’s release.
“Certainly there’s always relationships to work on in any scenario,” said Wyant. “There will always be some concern, and. . . I think we’ve accomplished that with our plan, certainly a flexible plan and one that will continue to evolve as the school year opens. But continuing to build relationships, enhance relationships with all our partners in education continues to be a priority for the ministry of education.”
The Ministry of Education calls potential outbreaks in schools “not un-inevitable,” said Wyant, but he is confident in the protocols in place to address those situations.
“What we’re encouraging people to do is continue to follow the very good advice of the chief medical health officer and public health,” said Wyant. “Certainly we have processes and procedures in place to ensure the safety of our staff and our students should that occur [but] continuing to follow advice around hand cleaning and social distancing will continue to be very important, not just in schools but in the community.”
Wyant also stated that the position of the Ministry of Education is that extracurricular activities can be allowed to go forward, provided they follow all the safety guidelines already in place from public health and the back to school plan.
Oversight from the ministry will be ongoing, with contact with school divisions to reassess plans as the school year progresses.
A total of $80 million from the Ministry of Education has been committed to the return to classrooms, said Wyant, including a commitment of $10 million to provide personal protective equipment to school divisions.