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Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party criticizes back-to-school plan during London visit

New Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca speaks at the convention in Mississauga, Ont., Saturday, March 7, 2020.
New Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca speaks at the convention in Mississauga, Ont., Saturday, March 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca was in London Wednesday to speak out against the Progressive Conservative government’s back-to-school plan for Ontario students.

Del Duca spoke at St. Mark Catholic School at 1440 Glenora Dr. Wednesday afternoon about his concerns as both a parent and government official.

“The plan the government has revealed to us as parents and everyone else involved is not good enough.”

Del Duca said opening schools is “not a partisan issue” and requires more time to do so safely.

Read more: Ontario elementary students to return to class full-time, hybrid learning for most high schoolers

“We want our daughters back in a classroom setting, but we want them to be safe,” he said.

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The main concern, Del Duca said, is class sizes and there not being enough room for kids to safely physically distance. He is calling for the Progressive Conservatives to push back the opening of school and use other facilities to allow smaller class sizes and hire more teachers.

The province’s reopening plan currently includes having elementary students in the classroom five days a week, while most secondary students will be in class at least 50 per cent of the time in cohorts of 15.

However, parents also have the option to keep their kids at home or do remote learning.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Parents create mock classroom to protest Ontario’s back-to-school plan' Coronavirus: Parents create mock classroom to protest Ontario’s back-to-school plan
Coronavirus: Parents create mock classroom to protest Ontario’s back-to-school plan

London NDP MPPs are also calling for smaller, safer classes. Peggy Sattler, Terence Kernaghan and Teresa Armstrong are calling on Premier Doug Ford to ditch his plan before it’s too late.

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“By keeping class sizes large, Doug Ford is forcing families in London to make an impossible choice,” said Sattler, MPP for London West.

“Many parents can’t afford to take more time off work to stay home with their kids, but are legitimately worried about sending their kids back into crowded classrooms.”

“Instead of putting children and families first, Ford is risking the school year because he wants to save money on the backs of kids with his ill-conceived, bargain-basement class scheme,” said Kernaghan, MPP for London North Centre.

Families with children in the Thames Valley District School Board have until Aug. 18 to select either at-home or in-school learning for the fall.

Read more: STSCO unveils guidelines for bussing central Ontario students amid coronavirus pandemic

“School reopening is critical to learning and development for Ontario’s students, and a critical support for families to get back to work and allow for the reopening of the economy,” the province said in a document released in late July.

Del Duca said the best thing to help the economy recover would be making sure parents feel safe sending their kids to school so they can go back to work full-time.

The provincial Liberals’ Students in Schools Action Plan, released in late July, would cost $3.2 billion and result in 820 new classroom locations, 860 additional educators and 440 additional caretakers in London alone.

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—With files from Nick Van Overloop Global News