March 28, 2019

Peel Board of Trustees sends letter to the Minister of Education to share concerns over recent announcements

March 26, 2019 

The Honourable Lisa Thompson 
Ministry of Education 
13th floor, Mowat Block 
900 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M7A 1L2

Dear Minister Thompson: 

As this is the first time we are writing to you, on behalf of the Peel District School Board, let me congratulate you on your role as Minister of Education. This is a significant responsibility and one that requires openness, consultation, and thoughtful consideration of input as the success of children and youth is of paramount importance. 

Over the March Break, the Ministry of Education announced a number of changes in an effort to “modernize learning in the publicly funded education system” in Ontario. These proposed changes are part of Ontario’s new vision for education—one the ministry has branded Education that Works for You. We are writing to you as a board to share concerns over some of the recent announcements in an effort to help the ministry understand what works for us—Peel board students, staff and families, and the communities we serve. 

Like you, we are charged with ensuring the positive, future trajectories of all learners. We are focused, as a system on inspiring success, confidence and hope in each student, while meeting the diverse needs of students in their communities. 

As trustees, we are responsible to our communities for the quality of education provided in local schools within an approved financial framework. With this in mind, we are writing to you with concerns about recent, proposed changes to public education that we believe will hinder our ability to continue to provide the high-quality education Peel students deserve. 

We expect that, for the 2019-20 school year, Peel board schools and work sites will be significantly impacted by cuts to local priorities funding, class size changes and other shifts in ministry budget priorities. We need the ministry’s help to do what’s right by the communities we serve and to address the following urgent concerns, many of which directly impact our most vulnerable learners:

Class size changes

  • We are concerned about the proposed increase in average class sizes in grades 9 to 12 and the changes in funding for grades 4 to 8 that the ministry is imposing. In smaller classes, students are more engaged and able to focus on relevant tasks. Teachers are also able to spend more one-on-one time supporting student learning and well-being, are better able to individualize instruction, and spend less time on classroom management. Access to equipment and other resources would also be limited/not available in larger class settings.
  • The class size increase will:
    • significantly impact the number of students in locally developed courses. Students in these courses benefit from more one-on-one teacher support.
    • mean a reduction in the variety of pathways courses offered. We know these courses are proven to engage students in more individualized, teacher-supported and skill-based learning.
    • have a direct impact on schools' ability to offer specialized courses, including courses that provide students with exposure to skilled trades and technology.
    • reduce the number of credit recovery/rescue courses, primarily in grades 9 and 10. This will jeopardize the success of some of our most vulnerable students.
  • Over time, graduation rates have risen due to the above alternative approaches to learning.
  • If we were required to fully implement the ministry's changes to class size and funding restrictions this September 2019, 500 secondary teaching jobs would be lost due to proposed class size changes. Other jobs, including custodial, office administration and centrally assigned support staff would also be impacted. Staff are currently analyzing the impact for all personnel.
  • On average, about 100 teachers leave the Peel board each year. Through the government's attrition protection plan, we trust the ministry will top up our funding if the number of teachers impacted by class size changes exceed the actual attrition number. We are relying on promises made by this government, and do not expect to initiate teacher lay-offs associated with proposed changes in class size. Of concern is the attrition parameters do not mitigate the loss in teacher jobs due to the broad funding cuts beyond class size. 
  • The board will continue to work with the government as the ministry's plan for e-learning evolves. We expect to be invited to consult on this plan so we can advocate on behalf of the needs of all learners, including those who will have challenges navigating and working in an online learning environment.
  • In addition, the board is concerned that students who live in poverty may not have the devices and/or technology necessary to access e-learning. Will the ministry offer supports that ensure these students and families who are marginalized are able to fully participate in e-learning in a manner that is equitable and inclusive?
Significant changes to class size and the introduction of mandatory e-learning have the potential to contribute to a dramatic drop in graduation rates across Ontario. Both of these proposed changes require significant consultation and re-consideration. 

​​ Special Education Funding/Autism
  • We need to see the ministry address the critical issue of underfunding of special education. This school year, we received $11 million less than we need to serve students with special education needs.
  • We have a total of 3,034 students with autism in the Peel board—250 to 300 of these students are affected by the government's recent changes to the Ontario Autism Program (OAP), and are expected to attend a Peel school full-time this September. This six-month delay is appreciated as we collaborate with families and service providers to review the specific and individual needs of students.
  • As school staff are not clinicians, we encourage the ministry to continue to reflect on its changes to the OAP and make decisions that best serve students with autism and their families.
Health & Physical Education Curriculum
  • We're pleased to see that topics like consent, online safety and gender identity will be part of the curriculum, but look to the province for clarification on the opt-out process for parents as we are mindful of the Ontario Human Rights Code and our board policies related to equity and inclusion.
Mathematics Curriculum
  • We trust that the ministry will implement a Mathematics curriculum that honours innovative instructional practices in Mathematics and reinforces foundational skills.
  • We know Peel board educators have been diligent and thoughtful in their instruction of Mathematics, and know that supports have been provided centrally for a number of years to help improve math learning. As there is always room for improvement, we look forward to having staff review the ministry's new curriculum and sharing what they learn with the system.
Funding Cuts
  • While there was some good news on transportation funding and addressing the rising costs of utilities, we understand that the loss of EPO grants, local priorities funding, as well as other proposed funding changes will result in job losses in Peel, and cuts to programming for students-at-risk and professional learning opportunities for staff.
  • As we wait for the Grants for Student Needs announcement, we cannot simply brace ourselves for further cuts that add more stress to an already compromised budget. We must and will advocate on behalf of the students and communities we serve for the funding the Peel board requires to ensure students meet with success. 
Although we appreciate developing resilience in youth is one goal of this government, compromising learning opportunities for students is not how we hope this will be supported. Resiliency is best learned through supportive relationships, the teaching of coping skills and reflection. These strategies are best delivered by experienced and knowledgeable educators and support staff—ones being negatively impacted by budget cuts.  
The discourse of failure we have heard lately is simply untrue—the data tells us a different story. So we ask the government to change its narrative. We are proud of the work done in Peel schools and work sites each day—life-changing work—by caring adults, staff and volunteers, who look to us for support. The support we provide must be rich and meaningful. Put simply, we cannot support all of our learners if funding cuts are deep, resources are stretched, and staff are burdened with heavy loads and worry—worry that they will not be able to provide the level of support needed to ensure all students are successful and cared for.

We must partner on public education, and the province must listen to all partners, including students. Student voice should be a strong driver of ministry decisions. When we move from viewing students as stakeholders to students as collaborators, they not only articulate their views, but will help shape the future of public education in Ontario, a future that was already bright.

As a Board of Trustees, we will do everything we can to support the system throughout these changing times, and are hopeful education partners can work together effectively and respectfully to avoid labour disruption next school year. Our focus will always be on students and how we can continue to do our best to provide programs that help support their academic success and well-being.

As one of Canada's largest school districts, we believe we have ideas and innovative practices the ministry should be aware of as it makes critical decisions about the future of public education in Ontario. As such, we request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns. We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Stan Cameron

Chair, Peel District School Board

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