As students across school boards in Ontario continue online learning amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has released a funding plan for the upcoming 2021-22 school year that will include the option for virtual learning.
“While we all want in-class learning to return this spring, we will not take risks with your child as we respond to high rates of COVID-19 in the community,” Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce said during an announcement Tuesday.
Students across all school boards in Ontario did not return to in-person learning after the April Break which was delayed from the March Break.
The government announced mid-April, during the break, that remote learning would continue “indefinitely.”
However, on Tuesday, Lecce announced funding for the upcoming 2021-22 school year that includes more than $2 billion for COVID-19 resources, to support learning recovery and renewal amid the pandemic and an increase in grants for student needs.
Remote learning will be available for families as an option for their children, if they choose, for the 2021-22 school year across all boards, the government also confirmed Tuesday.
When it comes to a possible return to schools for in-person learning, Lecce stopped short of confirming the rest of the year will be remote. He repeatedly said the advice from Dr. David Williams will guide the province’s decision to stick exclusively with virtual learning.
“His position has not changed on this matter,” Lecce said referring to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
Lecce reiterated that education staff who work in person are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and everyone 18 and older will be able to book a vaccine by the end of May.
According to the government, $1.6 billion will go towards COVID-19 resources which includes ventilation systems, filter replacements, supporting learning recovery and renewal, staffing with flexibility to meet local needs, remote learning technology and access to reserves.
Also included is money for PPE (personal protective equipment), critical supplies, public health nurses, asymptomatic testing, transportation, special education, a full year of mental health and well being support, and technology.
The province said $85.5 million will go towards supporting learning and recovery which includes 2021 summer learning, re-engaging students, early reading and math, tutoring, mental health and well being.
Ontario said it is increasing Grants for Student Needs by $561 million (2.2 per cent from the previous year). Funding from Ontario’s “priorities and partnership funding” will include over $288 million for school boards and third parties.
“The plan for the 2021-22 school year supports the continued health and safety of students and staff, establishes the operational and academic requirements to provide stability for students, families and staff, supports the learning recovery and success of students in the next school year, and continues the government’s focus on supporting student mental health and wellbeing,” the government documents read.
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