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Ontario to receive $763M from federal return-to-school fund

Click to play video 'Confusion, anxiety as students head back to school' Confusion, anxiety as students head back to school
Plenty of parents are feeling uneasy as they send their kids back to school, while others are staying home. As Eric Sorensen explains, parents and educators want smaller class sizes, but that's not always possible.

Ontario will be getting the biggest slice of the pie from the $2-billion Safe Return to Class Fund.

Announced in late August, the new federal fund aims to help provinces and territories with the return to school.

Read more: Coronavirus: Ottawa giving provinces $2B for back-to-school safety

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen announced in London, Ont., on Friday that Ontario will receive about $763 million from the new fund.

“It is to be used for whatever they need to keep kids safe,” Hussen said, adding that the flexible fund will be available throughout the school year.

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London North Centre Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos said education has been the lead issue at his office over the past month.

“Obviously, education is not a federal area of jurisdiction, so it is not conventional by any means for the federal government to assist and intervene in this way, but we have heard from the provinces (and) we have certainly heard from school boards, from teachers, from parents,” Fragiskatos said.

“There is deep anxiety and concern out there. The federal government has an ability to act here and it has, in a rather unprecedented way.”

Read more: Majority of London-area families to send kids back to school

Kwame Aidoo is a teacher at Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in north London.

He said that while the additional funding gives him comfort, he’s now concerned about where the money goes, such as “whether we’re distributing it for personal protective equipment, getting more teachers in the building instead of collapsing classes, and so forth.”

Read more: NDP calls for province’s ombudsman to review Ontario’s back-to-school plan

As a high school teacher in the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB), Aidoo’s students will take on a cohort system. Aidoo has faith in the system, but he worries for his elementary peers.

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“Elementary’s going to be a little different,” Aidoo said. “We shouldn’t be collapsing classes. Let’s try and get more teachers in the building so we can keep the class sizes small.”

Aidoo said his biggest concern is providing a safe in-person experience for students.

“We’ve got to give them some sort of socialization because, for some of these kids, they haven’t been able to hang out with their friends, talk to their friends, for the last five months.”

High school teacher Kwame Aidoo and his son stand in a playground behind White Oaks Public School in London, Ont.
High school teacher Kwame Aidoo and his son stand in a playground behind White Oaks Public School in London, Ont. Andrew Graham / Global News

In London, both the LDCSB and the Thames Valley District School Board will hold their first day of school on Sept. 14. The delayed start is intended to help staff and administration prepare for a return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario’s share of the Safe Return to Class Fund represents the largest allocation of the federal money.

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Quebec will receive the second-largest share of the funding with more than $400 million going to the province.