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School boards react to upcoming changes from Ford government

Class sizes to be increased at high school level, possible job losses for teachers; math, sex education to be overhauled, though details of changes are not yet fully known
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The heads of the Sault and Algoma region’s two English language school boards have offered their responses to the provincial government’s upcoming changes to classroom sizes and how some courses will be taught within the classroom.

In a list of changes announced March 15, the government stated there will be class size increases, up from the current average of 22 to 28, in Grades 9 to 12.

The changes to class sizes will be implemented over a period of four years, the government said.

That will result in high school teachers losing their jobs, teachers unions have said.

For now, Rose Burton Spohn, Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) director of education, has said her understanding is the government will be providing “attrition protection (monetary protection) because of this class size shift, so that layoffs don’t have to occur because of that. That’s not to say there won’t be any layoffs, period, because there could be declining enrolment or other factors...however as a result of this shift the Ministry appears to be adding some protections in place for teachers to prevent major job losses. That’s what I’m getting from the memo they provided.”

“It came out over March Break and they did promise to provide us with more funding information by the end of April,” Burton Spohn said, speaking to SooToday.

“The proposed change is to move to a class size of 28 (at the secondary level), however, our current class sizes in our collective agreements remain in effect, as the government has extended the class size consultation until May 31,” said Lucia Reece, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) director of education.

“We don’t anticipate a big impact for this September, however, we will monitor what comes from the consultation and do anticipate changes could be in place for the 2020-2021 school year,” Reece told us.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), in a news release, has declared “this will result in a loss of 3,630 front-line OSSTF teachers from Ontario’s public education system.”

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) says the change will "result in the loss of approximately 5,000 teaching positions in Catholic schools."

"This means many schools will not be able to offer the same number and diversity of programs as they do today. Furthermore, some class sizes, including those in core subjects such as math, are likely to grow to more than 40 students," OECTA said in a news release.

In response to union reactions to the government’s changes, the Huron-Superior board’s Burton Spohn said “it’s hard for us to predict what the impact of this is going to be until we start to actually get our enrolment numbers (later this year)’s very early in the process.”

“Our staffing processes involve working with our union groups, so that will continue as usual,” Reece said on behalf of the ADSB.

The province has said it won’t change the caps on class sizes for kindergarten and primary grades, which are currently at 29 and 23, respectively.

There will be a modest increase in the average class size for intermediate Grades 4 to 8, up slightly from 23.84 to 24.5.

Meanwhile, regarding what is actually taught in the classroom, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government will bring in a 'back to basics' approach to teaching math, focusing on “fundamentals,” and ditch the former Liberal government’s policy of ‘discovery math’ (a concept which emphasizes experimentation and problem solving rather than traditional rote learning).

“Certainly, what they have called the fundamentals of mathematics are well in line with what we have been doing in our board for quite some time, which is focusing on numeracy, getting kids to understand how to work with numbers flexibly, accurately and efficiently,” said Burton Spohn, adding educators have yet to see full details of the new math curriculum.

“What is, for me, very interesting, is they seem to be planning on adding some financial literacy and coding into the math program. I would certainly welcome the approach of connecting mathematics to careers and basic life skills as well.”

“Basic facts certainly are important and are part of a balanced math program. They’re also a great component that parents can support at home through practice. Our school data and EQAO data show that many of our students are good at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, but that where they have difficulty is with solving complex, multi-step problems,” Reece said.

“(Therefore) teaching problem-solving is still very important and why we will continue our focus on a balanced math program. Basics are important, but there is much more to math than basic facts. When students have a very good grasp of basic facts, it allows them to be more efficient and to approach problem-solving with confidence. Improving math scores requires a combination of basic math skills, problem solving and abilities to apply concepts,” Reece said.

The province has also announced changes to sexual education in the schools.

Gender identity and consent will be taught as part of a new sexual education curriculum that will be brought into schools by the fall. However, gender identity will now be introduced to students in Grade 8 rather than in Grade 2.

The government has stated parents will still be able to opt out of having their children exposed to certain topics within sex-ed, the ministry to issue online instructions for those who want guidance on discussing those topics at home.

Full details will be released by the government to school boards in May.

“Sex education is taught through our Religion and Family Life program in the Catholic system, so how they overhaul the sex-ed curriculum in Kindergarten to Grade 8 is not going to have a major impact on us,” Burton Spohn said.

“The announcement indicates a change of grade levels for some material in the curriculum, based on parent feedback...more information about the opt out, modules and monitoring are still being developed, so we will monitor and hope to receive further information in the coming months,” Reece said.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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