The Honourable Stephen Lecce
Minister of Education
Government of Ontario
Dear Minister Lecce,
As you know, the current health crisis continues to have a major impact on the health and well-being of our communities and the operations of our education system, including the Toronto District School Board. While I recognize the significant demands of the Government of Ontario during these times, I wanted to take this opportunity to bring your attention to the need for additional funding to help school boards adjust to this unprecedented situation and for further supports to help students transition back to school when it is safe to do so.
Since the mandated closure of all public schools due to COVID-19 (March 13, 2020), school boards were tasked with implementing digital platforms and remote learning resources to ensure that students had the opportunity to continue learning at home and stay virtually connected to their school communities.
To ensure that no student was left behind, we knew that we would have to support families by providing devices (i.e. iPads and Chromebooks) that provided students with the technology and internet access needed to participate. To date, we have purchased or leased approximately 19,400 devices and, overall, delivered more than 56,000 devices to students and their families across the system.
However, we know that remote learning cannot replace a classroom setting and the hands-on supports that schools can offer. Although we have done our best to ensure that no student is left behind, this model of learning is not for everyone and some students have not been able to participate for a variety of reasons. This means that some students will be further distanced from their education and school communities than others, and may need additional learning supports when it is time to return to school. This is a major concern as research shows that even summer breaks can have a negative effect on the learning abilities of some students. Students may also need help overcoming other barriers developed during the pandemic, such as stress brought on by the psychological, financial and health impacts of COVID-19.
On behalf of the Toronto District School Board, I am asking that you consider providing school boards with additional funding through Grants for Student Needs to provide additional staffing and resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of students; special education; children with special needs; students transitioning from elementary to secondary school; and those struggling with literacy and numeracy. I also ask that you begin funding technology, such as iPads or Chromebooks, at a 1 device to 1 student ratio.
COVID-19 has changed the way we learn, work and live, and I hope that your government sees the importance of adapting the provincial funding structure to help school boards overcome the challenges of this pandemic and ensure that our students and staff have the proper supports to return to school when it is safe to do so.
Robin Pilkey, CPA, CA, ICD.D
Chair, Toronto District School Board