Both Algoma-Manitoulin provincial Liberal candidate Tim Vine and his party leader Steven Del Duca have come down hard on the side of a full return to school classrooms in Ontario in September, and a retreat from education funding cuts.
In a Thursday morning online news conference, both stressed the importance of getting back to normal in our schools in the next academic year.
"Recurring and revolving closures cannot happen again. We need a real education recovery that makes sure no student falls between the cracks," said Vine.
They touched on a commitment to reverse cuts to public education and to put students at the centre of the economic recovery by promising an Ontario Liberal Education Recovery. It would invest in a safe September featuring smaller class sizes, better ventilation in classrooms and more support for kids with special needs and mental health challenges.
“The best place for our children to learn is in a safe classroom, receiving top-notch, face-to-face instruction from educators in Algoma-Manitoulin and across Ontario,” said Del Duca. “As premier, I would deliver a return to school that gives parents the peace of mind they need to send their kids back while providing temporary virtual learning for those who still have concerns.”
"It’s time we reverse Doug Ford’s cuts, end the chaos and get our publicly funded education system back on track,” added Del Duca. “Ontario Liberals are investing in a better, stronger future.”
He said his recovery plan would invest in 50 new educators in Algoma to allow for capping all class sizes at 20 students to ensure that dedicated teaching time and direct student-teacher support get learning on track.
Del Duca's Education Recovery Plan would invest in 4 new mental health professionals in Algoma to provide counselling and support to students that are struggling with their mental health.
He said it would ensure students with special needs have the direct support they need by investing in 20 new special education workers in Algoma.
He would also take the time needed to understand the learning gaps caused by revolving closures and online learning and cancel the 2022 EQAO while those gaps are being assessed.
Finally, the plan would provide subsidies for 100,000 Ontario kids who need financial assistance to attend summer camps or programming.
Del Duca said with the focus on getting everyone who would like to be vaccinated fully immunized by the end of the summer, in-person learning will be prioritized.
He added, “To complement vaccinations and ensure safety, in-person learning must be accompanied by robust asymptomatic testing, contact tracing and enhanced, high-quality PPE. Ontario Liberals would also make online learning a temporary option for parents not comfortable with sending their kids back yet."
He also promised upgrades in school infrastructure, particularly heating and ventilation systems, plus $20 million to double the province’s current commitment to supporting counsellors and social workers responsible for re-engaging students who have fallen between the cracks and left the school system.
There would be $40 million for school transportation needs, including smaller numbers of students in buses and staffing retention (on top of the $32 million in temporary funding from the province).
He called on Premier Ford to end mandatory and permanent online learning and research its impacts on our children’s learning and well-being before moving forward; while continuing to invest in high-quality, optional online resources and courses for high school students capped at 20 students with the Ontario curriculum serving as the foundation.
In response to a question about the concerns of Indigenous People, especially in light of the discovery of 215 unmarked children’s graves at the former residential school grounds in Kamloops, B.C., Vine said there is a general sentiment to continue to reclaim the traditional names of places across the riding.
He added, “I can’t identify anything specific for you that’s happening at this point but I look forward to continuing consultations with chiefs and elders and hearing from them about those types of visible markers.”
Del Duca said the Liberals have selected close to 45 candidates now to contest the next provincial election in 2022. He said 62 per cent of them are women, 50 per cent are people of colour and five to six are under the age of 30. He also announced the Liberal Party has fully paid off its $10 million debt from the last provincial election campaign in 2018.