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NDP leader visits London, Ont., calling on Ford government to increase school funding

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in London outside Eagle Heights Public School call on the Ford government to rethink its back to school plan August 25, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The leader of the provincial NDP Andrea Horwath was in London Tuesday to call on Premier Doug Ford to improve his back-to-school plans.

She spoke at a press conference outside Eagle Heights Public School on Oxford Street about the need for smaller class sizes and for the province to increase funding for schools preparing to welcome back students amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Mr. Ford has put together a bargain-basement scheme that does not provide enough funding for safe return to school,” she said.

With two weeks until students return to school, Horwath said there should not be so many safety concerns, and the steps taken so far “are not good enough.”

To have a safe return to class, she said the government needs to source extra classroom spaces, hire thousands of teachers, make sure buses can operate, increase custodial staffing and update buildings.

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When asked if the start date should be pushed back, Horwath said she would only support a delayed start if the government were to take the time to implement the extra steps needed to ensure student safety.

“There is no way the boards have the financial capacity, even dipping into reserves, to deal with these challenges,” Horwath said.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario parent discuss problems with Ford government’s back to school plan' Coronavirus: NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario parent discuss problems with Ford government’s back to school plan
Coronavirus: NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario parent discuss problems with Ford government’s back to school plan

Parent Sara McNeil, whose four-year-old daughter was supped to start junior kindergarten at Eagle Heights in September, was there to speak about her fears with the government’s plan.

McNeil’s daughter has severe viral asthma, putting her at a higher risk. She said because of all of the concerns around class sizes, they have decided to keep her home this year.

“I want her in school, I want her socializing with other kids and back to some routine of normalcy, but I can’t do that in an environment where her health is compromised,” she said.

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McNeil said the family was lucky because her husband will be working from home, but she acknowledges a lot of parents don’t have the choice to stay home with their kids because they have to work.

Horwath has been vocal about her concerns regarding Ontario’s back-to-school plans.

Read more: Ontario NDP calls on Ford government to boost funding for school reopenings in September

In mid-August, she brought a school bus to Queen’s Park as a way to demonstrate concerns about physical distancing.

“The bottom line: we’re weeks in front of the opening of schools and the Ford government hasn’t done anything to try to source extra buses,” Horwath said.

“It’s inevitable that kids are going to be cheek by jowl inside those buses.”

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The Ford government announced its back-to-school plan in June, with $309 million allocated.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce also announced an additional $68 million earlier this month, of which $50 million will go towards upgrading ventilation systems and $18 million will be used towards online learning.

Read more: What parents in the London, Ont., area are asking school board, health unit before back to school

But Horwath and concerned parents across the province have argued that the funding is not enough to provide sufficient supplies, including personal protective gear, as well as proper ventilation and measures to ensure physical distancing can be done properly.

“He’s trying to send kids back to school on the cheap,” Horwath said.

The NDP leader spent the rest of her day Tuesday in London visiting local entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Students enrolled in the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and the London Catholic District School Board (LCDSB) are set to start the school year on Sept. 8.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ford, Lecce respond to questions regarding Ontario school class sizes, physical distancing' Coronavirus: Ford, Lecce respond to questions regarding Ontario school class sizes, physical distancing
Coronavirus: Ford, Lecce respond to questions regarding Ontario school class sizes, physical distancing