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Province's reform will cause loss of 103 high school classes, York school board says

Ontario government urged to reconsider changes to autism program, class size increases, and mandatory e-learning, York public board chairperson writes
Newmarket High students gathered to protest education cuts by the provincial government on April 4, 2019. Greg King for NewmarketToday

York Region District School Board will have a chance to air its concerns about proposed education reforms in a series of consultations planned by Ontario’s Education Ministry.

York public board chairperson Corrie McBain laid out its concerns in an April 25 letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson about changes to the autism funding program, increased class sizes, mandatory online learning classes, and the potential loss of about 300 teaching positions in secondary schools.

McBain asked the minister to rethink some of the policies the York board considers most detrimental to local students, including:

  • The need for the board to hire additional staff members to support an anticipated increase in the number of new enrolments for children with high needs related to an autism diagnosis. For example, 50 local families have told the board they have a child who will increase to full-time attendance as a result of the government’s changes to the program. You can learn more about the Ontario Autism Program here. You can take part in four telephone town halls set for May 1, 6, 16 and 22 by registering here.
  • Once secondary school class sizes are increased to 28 students per teacher, up from 22, the board anticipated a loss of 300 teaching positions. The average secondary school in the board has an enrolment of 1,400 students. Timetabling for students and staff allocation is currently underway, and under the 28:1 average ratio, as an example in a school this size, a full 625 students, or 45 per cent, will not have a full timetable to complete their secondary school education. Under the previous class size model, this school offered a total of 482 classes across all grades. Under the 28:1 average, 379 classes will be offered, a loss of 103 classes. This means losing 17 teaching positions in one school alone.
  • Students in Ontario require a minimum of 30 credits to obtain their high school diploma. The proposal to mandate one e-learning course per year per student means that students will now be required to complete 13.3 per cent of their secondary school online. Last year, the board saw an overall dropout rate of 25 per cent in the day school e-learning program. This is in sharp contrast to the dropout rate for in-class courses of six per cent. Rural areas in the region do not have access to widespread high-speed bandwidth, and some students do not have access to technology at home to complete the courses. Given that staffing levels in secondary schools are being reduced, it will be difficult to provide appropriate supports to students who may require help or access.

A spokesperson for Thompson said the ministry is now conducting follow-up consultations on key elements of its plan, including proposed changes to class sizes.

“The consultations will allow us to ensure that our plan is designed to serve the best interests of Ontario’s students in a way that works for families and school boards and is fair to our educators,” a ministry spokesperson told NewmarketToday.

“In addition, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services will be consulting with families, clinicians and other experts to assess how our government can better support children and youth with complex needs, including through additional direct funding.”

Ontario government funding for the 2019-20 school year was announced April 26 and includes a slight increase to school boards through the grants for student needs at $24.66 billion, up from $24.53 billion. But per-pupil funding is down, coming in at $12,246. Boards received $12,300 per pupil in the 2018-19 academic year.

The government also recently announced it will provide what it calls a “landmark" $1.6 billion in teacher job protection to ensure “not a single teacher loses a job as a result of proposed changes to class sizes or e-learning”, an initiative Thompson tweeted to her followers on Twitter April 26.

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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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