Ontario’s Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Premier Doug Ford to scrap the province’s current back-to-school plan on Thursday and replace it with one that delivers smaller class sizes.

“This is not a plan that allows for safe distancing of kids, and it's not a plan that is about the safety of our children,” Horwath said, standing outside a Hamilton-area school expecting more than 1,000 students in September and which already uses 19 portables.

Ford said Wednesday he is “not holding back on a penny” as he faced a barrage of questions about back-to-school plans critics say do not provide enough funding to keep students safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Going into September, talk about losing sleep, that’s my number one priority, to protect the kids, and I'll do whatever it takes to protect the kids,” Ford said at a news conference on Wednesday about an unrelated funding announcement where most questions from reporters revolved around education.

That was not good enough for Stacey Davis, a Grade 1 teacher with children in grades 3 and 5 who joined Horwath on Thursday and called the plan “insufficient, underwhelming, and quite frankly, irresponsible.”

Davis said she was among a group of teachers asked in June to see how much space they could create in their classrooms and was unable to space the desks for her 20 to 22 students at least one metre apart.

She was unsure whether she would send her own children back to school.

“I want them to attend school and I want to teach as well, but until the government makes adequate changes to this plan, I will not be sending my kids to school and I do not feel protected as an educator,” she said.

“This plan can be made better,” she added. “I will not be made a guinea pig and I will not settle.”

Ford dodged when asked if his government might add to the $309 million it set aside for pandemic-related adjustments in the plan he and Education Minister Stephen Lecce released last week, saying he would “never say never, put it that way.”

“We know what Mr. Ford is all about,” Horwath said. “Let's not forget this is the guy (who) was expanding classroom sizes before the pandemic hit. He was on track to fire 10,000 teachers.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford answers questions on August 5, 2020, while accompanied by Lisa MacLeod, the minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries. Screengrab of live feed from premier's YouTube channel

Ford also sought to present the plan as the product of advice provided by pediatric and public health experts and said the money made available was the most per student in the country.

“If it was up to us, there’d be five kids in the classroom,” he said. “We’re doing pretty good (with overall COVID-19 cases), so let’s give this a shot.”

Ontario is spending $165 per pupil, which the government said compared to $162 in Quebec and $79 in British Columbia.

“We’re going to give it everything we can and make sure that we move forward and pray to God that everyone is safe,” he said.

Guidance released by the Hospital for Sick Children and other health experts at the end of July recommended that smaller class sizes be a priority, guidance that opposition politicians say Ford and Lecce have ignored.

“Addressing structural deficiencies, such as large class sizes, small classrooms and poor ventilation, must be part of any plan to reopen schools,” the July 29 report said.

“Doug Ford often refers to this report, but refuses to follow their advice,” said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, whose party has estimated it would cost $3.2 billion to reopen schools safely. “He has not put one dollar towards finding additional space for students or teachers.”

The hospitals — which also include Ottawa’s CHEO, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and Unity Health Toronto — issued a carefully worded statement after Ford spoke that did not directly reference the earlier call for smaller class sizes.

“We encourage the Ministry of Education, all school boards and schools to consider our guidance as they implement the health and safety measures based on their local environments and COVID-19 circumstances,” they wrote.

‘I feel like I’m getting sent back to die’

Student Isaiah Towers is not comfortable with the plan, seeing negative outcomes whether attending class in person or choosing to stay home and learn remotely.

“As a student, I can confirm I’m terrified,” Towers tweeted. “So are a majority of students. Personally, I feel like I’m getting sent back to die. But if I don’t go my education will slip even more.”

While children who contract COVID-19 appear to fare better than adults, less likely to be heavily hurt by it, the broader risk is that schools reopening could reignite community spread.

An online petition started by a teacher-librarian on the weekend that demands a reduction in class sizes had garnered almost 168,000 signatures by mid-afternoon Thursday.

Ford said he would not hesitate to shut schools again if a second wave of infections emerges.

“It’s time for the premier to get off the campaign bus and get back to the drawing board,” said Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario. “Crowded classrooms and too few dollars for education make for unsafe learning come September.”

The country’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, said in a planning document released last month that it would need to hire nearly 2,500 more teachers at a cost of almost $250 million in order to teach elementary students full time in groups of 15.

Ford said that kindergarten enrolment is capped at 30 with both a teacher and an early childhood educator, and that they would be expected to cohort students into groups of 15 within the classroom.

Ford also said that people “live in a bubble to a certain degree in Toronto, and we don’t think anywhere else exists.” He said that the government’s plan also takes into account the “80 per cent (of Ontarians who)... live in the rural areas,” whom, he said, have in some cases gone months without new COVID-19 cases.

In fact, almost six million of Ontario’s 14.6 million people (or more than a third) live in the Greater Toronto Area, which includes the city of Toronto and a string of municipalities surrounding it.

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 3:34 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2020 with comments from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and a teacher/parent.

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As we're just beginning to acknowledge long-term effects in adults, it's frightfully premature to conclude that children don't suffer them.
And then, there are those few who suffer serious multi-organ breakdown. How is it Doug Ford doesn't know that? Oh yeah. Doesn't read.

"Ford said that kindergarten enrolment is capped at 30 with both a teacher and an early childhood educator, and that they would be expected to cohort students into groups of 15 within the classroom."
... has he ever been *in* a kindergarten classroom? How does he propose to keep one group of 15 kids in a room from engaging with anyone in the other group of 15? And more to the point, where is the budget (and timeline) for replacing old or non-existent ventilation systems?
Adults and families are to "pod" with a max of 10 individuals, each of whom is to "socialize" exclusively within that group. And now, up to several of those members will be bringing in the full range of exposure to 30 other "pods," along with all the contacts in the pods of each of their sibs.
But then, Ford does seem to be arithmetically challenged as well ...
Not to mention being very good at talking the talk ... but his shoes don't follow.

Sounds terrible. 30 is just a normal classroom size. That definitely doesn't leave adequate distance.

We have several friends facing dangers on three fronts. The adult is a teacher in one school, with kids - one in a high school, one in elementary. Three schools - one household. We are all sympathetic to the kids who really need to be in school because their parents aren't as equipped - or available - as richer kids'. Those could stay home with distance learning. Let's think along those lines.

My observation of the directions of this administration are that they are "anti-poor," and it's totally in line with the corporatist approach of reducing manpower, to just, you know, let the poor people die. As long as they don't drag higher SES ppl with them.
So we've seen no increases in assistance to the very poor in a year: the next "change point" is October. There have been no increases in payments to seniors who rely on CPP, OAS, GIS (most seniors don't have private pensions), no increases to people with disabilities (the new formula for what used to be the WITB supplement makes it a smaller benefit), no increases to people on OntarioWorks ("welfare") or Ontario Disability Support Program ("welfare" for those who for medical reasons cannot work), and the worst off of all of them are, of course, disabled, lone females of any age (though the seniors amongst them are locked forever in their plight: there's no "spend now, catch up later" available). Ageism is alive and well in Canada.
So we see all the usual groups: homeless, First Nations, older women without families, under-educated single men, being given short shrift.
AFAIK, there *is* no research that says 1M is a safe social distance for unmasked individuals of any age.
It's a crock that little kids don't get sick from Covid-19, or that they don't transmit the virus. Consider that most kids aren't "bellowers" (although we have a few in my neighbourhood), they don't generally huff and puff, and their faces are closer to the ground.
If you're taking the "standard" 6' measure used in design considerations (most people are not that tall) as an estimated average height of better-off white males, and something around 2' as the height of a nursery/kindergarten child (most are tallerl) a horizontal distance of 1M doesn't provide at any research-based distance sufficient to provide any reduction of risk at all.
And for the little ones, all at relatively the same height, seated, there is none at all.
The recent Covid-spread in Melbourne, AU, is related directly to school outbreaks. Just FWIW. And there, they have very active surveillance of individuals in quarantine/self-isolation: multiple unannounced visits a day, with heavy fines.
While Ontario is apparently "opening" venues for those who cannot self-isolate at home, one wonders how that works, when, say, a single parent gets sick. Who looks after the kids? And how do they isolate one child from another in housing available to low-income workers?
If media is any measure, the push to get kids back in school seems to be coming from well-off men, who want "life" to "return to normal." It beggars the imagination to consider what's "normal" about sending kids into the kind of contact scenarios that we already know caused outbreaks amongst, say, farm workers or food packing plants.
And anyone who thinks that all hs kids away from parental supervision are all wearing masks when in close contact with friends outside their "bubbles" or "pods" hasn't been looking out their windows. That includes the well-dressed kids with spiff haircuts and fancy phones.
I've spoken to a few of them. Some recognize the potential danger they're placing their families in, and how they'd feel when it came down to their being the initial case in a household outbreak. Very few kids would want to be the one who made Grandma so sick she died ... or anyone. They'd live with that forever.
What about any of that does Doug Ford not get?
You can't keep the kids safe without distancing, and without very good ventilation and/or air filtration.
I, for one, am not sympathetic to the administration that forces less well-off parents to send their kids into danger, or to bring it home to them.

We have several friends facing dangers on three fronts. The adult is a teacher in one school, with kids - one in a high school, one in elementary. Three schools - one household. We are all sympathetic to the kids who really need to be in school because their parents aren't as equipped - or available - as richer kids'. Those could stay home with distance learning. Let's think along those lines.

We have several friends facing dangers on three fronts. The adult is a teacher in one school, with kids - one in a high school, one in elementary. Three schools - one household. We are all sympathetic to the kids who really need to be in school because their parents aren't as equipped - or available - as richer kids'. Those could stay home with distance learning. Let's think along those lines.

Looks like the sheeple are all terrified of a disease that has similar mortality to regular, seasonal influenza.

Wake up, Canada! This is social engineering. It has never been about your health.

Hi, thank you for your comment. I just wanted to note that seasonal influenza has a case fatality rate (CFR) cited at about 0.1 per cent or less. For COVID-19, the case fatality rate is estimated to be at least 1.0 per cent, much higher in some regions. It can also cause lasting damage on the respiratory system. https://www.nytimes.com/video/health/100000007056651/covid-ards-acute-respiratory-distress-syndrome.html

Thank you for your reasoned response. If facts count, this should help. Unfortunately, my experience is that facts go out the window once a person decides to downplay this virus, for whatever reason. And when it comes to putting children at risk, I'm out of patience.

So let's stop warehousing our children. We've already had to face reality about how private long term care centres do that to maximize profit; governments on the right do that to school kids as well, to pinch pennies.

They're 'open for business' from any darn where, but they cry poverty when it comes to providing excellence in education. They get elected promising fiscal responsibility and start by chopping money and staff from education and health! Have you not been following events in Ontario and Alberta just prior to this virus kicking us all awake???

To my mind, the real SHEEPLE.. are the financially challenged base of this right wing agenda. Finance the old economy, cut essential social services; finance violent police forces; close safe injection sites, etc. etc.

But caring for the young, educating the next generation is not unpaid women's work any longer James.......its a societal investment that will pay back to a much greater extent than the silly mega projects many sheeples in expensive suits pursue now. It employs thousands, and is the real "wealth creator". Additionally, most of those professionals do not have off shore accounts, but rather pay taxes and live in their real communities.

Invest in safe education; its also excellent education; stop thinking people have to accept inadequate conditions for their children, while we squander billions on corporations that have wasted easement money buying back their own paper stock.............

Our multi=generational family is just going to say NO to right wing bluff and bluster...........where our precious children are concerned.

PS. Only a scientifically challenged old goat would argue corona virus is equivalent to the flu. It's a newcomer to the human population; science doesn't yet have a complete fix on it....old curmudgeons who think they do are delusional.

Don't worry, kid. You're not being sent back to die. You're being sent back to kill your parents. And maybe grandparents.

Exactly. But when research tells us that resilience in children comes from these factors, in order: 1. a healthy mom, 2. a healthy grandma and 3, a healthy dad............we need to insist challenged intellectuals on the fiscal right understand.

Wiping out the elders will have long term, devastating effects on those same children. And that's apart from the lasting guilt of having taken out a beloved grandparent.

Are we not sick of politicians who serve big money and disregard little people? How much longer before we run them out of our communities on a rail.......tarred and feathered, if the necessary products to do the job are available?

I know I'm gearing up.