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TDSB chair expresses concerns about effects of COVID-related isolation on kindergarten students

The Toronto District School Board headquarters at 5050 Yonge Street. Katherine Ward / File / Global News

The chair of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has written a letter to the province’s education minister requesting more early childhood educators amid concerns around “extraordinary developmental needs” of kindergarten students arising from COVID-related isolation.

Alexander Brown wrote a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, noting that students entering junior kindergarten next year will have spent “the vast majority” of their lives living through COVID-19.

“Early childhood development depends on experience, and particularly social experience, which stimulates, tunes and hones the brain’s unfolding architecture,” Brown wrote.

Read more: Ontario rejects TDSB’s request for more time in lifting mask rules in schools

“Because of the pandemic, opportunities for social experience have been limited due to closed childcare services, community centres, playgrounds, social distancing and other factors.”

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Brown said many “crucial community-level public services,” like health supports for healthy babies and families, were delayed due to staff redeployment related to COVID-19, which limits the current understanding of the development of young children.

“There is also limited existing data on COVID-19 pandemic impacts on infants and young children, yet one small New York study indicates slight neurodevelopmental delays on children born during the pandemic,” Brown said.

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Brown said the ministry’s kindergarten program includes one teacher and one early childhood educator in each classroom, but noted that the class size regulation allows for smaller kindergarten classes without an early childhood educator if there are fewer than 15 students.

“Therefore, I am seeking assistance from your government to help these new students develop a strong foundation for learning in Grade 1 by providing an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom,” the letter said.

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Global News contacted Lecce’s office for a response to the TDSB letter.

Spokesperson Grace Lee didn’t say whether the province would move to have early childhood educators in every kindergarten classroom.

Read more: Ontario to revamp approach to literacy after damning report released

“Ontario is one of the few provinces in Canada offering all-day junior and senior kindergarten for families,” Lee said.

“To support the hiring of roughly 3,000 additional staff — including educators, ECEs and EAs — the government announced over $300 million for the coming school year. This will enable higher levels of staffing, along with the largest tutoring expansion and mental health funding in Ontario history, to better support students as we work to get them back on track.

“Under Premier Ford, Ontario is investing over $680 million more next year — the single largest investment in Ontario’s history, that will deliver the largest tutoring, mental health, special education and staffing supports in all public schools across the province.”

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