Halton District School Board (HDSB) trustees say a lack of child care and safety is behind a push to get the province to drop a planned “hybrid” model for students returning to class in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, the HDSB said the option would not work for students from kindergarten to Grade 6 since it requires child care for up to 36,000 students, which does not currently exist in the region.
The board goes on to sat that daytime child care within Halton primarily focuses on preschool-aged children.
“Therefore, temporary, casual, and unlicensed care may make up the majority of a potential new child-care market.,” HDSB chair Andrea Grebenc said in her letter to Lecce. “This market has no formal obligation to learn about or adhere to strict public health protocols to stop the transmission of the virus.”
In June, Lecce outlined three potential scenarios for the resumption of classes in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, which included a full return, a partial return with reduced class sizes or the continuation of remote learning.
The partial return, or hybrid, option involves a blended approach in which students split time between online learning and in-person attendance in rotation models with up to 15 students per class per day.
The move would split students into two cohort groups with one attending Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday and the other Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday.
Grebenc says a problem associated with the hybrid model is maximum class sizes. She says splitting the student body in half still leaves facilities in the region short on space and teachers to manage classes of about 15 students.
“To have 15 students come every day … we would need to hire teachers and aides immediately and not just a small amount. We would also need to find space,” Grebenc said.
Grebenc told Global News that adding students from Halton’s Catholic board and the region’s French schools could potentially put the number of students needing care on days they are out of school at about 50,000.
“You can imagine that there are lots of parents panicking. Essentially, you know, their eight-year-old needs someplace to go while they go to work,” said Grebenc.
The chair goes on to say that the model potentially disrupts the “classroom bubble” as well and increases the potential exposure to the coronavirus, thus elevating a student’s risk of infection.
“If child care is unavailable or unaffordable, parents may have to leave the labour force to care for their children on out-of-school days,” said Grebenc. “In some situations, young children may be left home alone or in the care of young siblings.”
During question period at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Lecce addressed the province’s child-care capacity, saying Ontario was committed to getting to 100 per cent in the form of home care, institutional child care and “other options.”
“In addition, we’ve dedicated a billion dollars for to build 30,000 (child-care) spaces within this province,” Lecce said. “We are on track to doing that through investments, (and) the child-care tax cut to give up to 75 per cent of child-care expenses to working parents.”
Lecce said the ministry is still targeting a full return in September but admitted that would be up to the doctors at the province’s COVID-19 command table.
As for support for families, if there is not a full return in the fall, Lecce said families can apply for the grant for student needs offered by all boards of education.