Toronto Public Health says the city's largest school board should reduce class sizes

Aug 7 2020, 1:51 pm

Toronto Public Health has raised some concerns over the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) back to school plan, particularly with elementary class sizes.

On Thursday night, a TDSB Trustee posted letter from the health agency’s associate medical officer of health, Vinita Dubey, which outlines recommendations for reducing class size.

On July 30, Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced an additional $309 million funding for schools in order for students to have a conventional five-day workweek.

While the plan mandates students Grade 4 and up wear masks and secondary students will be in classroom cohorts of 15 students, the same is not said for kids in kindergarten to Grade 3.

Ford and Lecce have defended their decisions saying it was based on the “best medical minds” and classroom sizes are already the lowest in the country.

In Dubey’s letter, she outlines that smaller class sizes are better for numerous reasons which include having more space to physically distance and if someone in the class contracts COVID-19 then the likelihood of virus spread is reduced.

For elementary classes, where masks are not required, smaller class sizes “will be particularly important to ensure students can be spaced out and reduce transmission.”

The letter also mentions that it will ensure that “pinch points” of times of crowding — like lining up to wash hands or go outside — can be done with proper distancing.

In addition, with smaller class sizes teachers will be able to control safety measures better.

“Scientifically, it has been shown that keeping a distance of two meters from others works well to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets from one person to another. While some distance may be beneficial over no distance (eg. one metre compared to no distance), keeping two meters apart as much as possible is strongly recommended by public health,” Dubey says.

In response to the letter, a TDSB spokesperson said that the school board has incorporated many of the public health measures that were advised by Toronto Public Health.

However, the health agency’s concerns over class size, which were prescribed by the Ministry of Education will be discussed along with other issues “with the Ministry and Toronto Public Health in the days ahead.”

When asked about reducing classroom size, the Ministry of Education spokesperson told Daily Hive that their plan to safely reopen schools has been informed by “the best medical and scientific minds in the country ” like Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, the COVID-19 Command Table, and the Hospital for Sick Children.

“We are proud to lead the nation in funding per-student, an aggressive masking policy for grades 4-12, hiring over 1,300 custodians and $75 million in additional cleaning funding, along with the hiring of 500 public health nurses to support student health in our schools,” the spokesperson said.

They noted that the evidence is changing and the school plan is a “living document” which means it is meant to be adapted as the “best evidence emerges.”

“We will never hesitate from taking further action to protect the health and safety of Ontario’s students and education staff.”

Ford and Lecce are set to make an announcement in Queen’s Park at 10 am.

Daily Hive has reached out to Toronto Public Health for comment and will update accordingly. 

Clarrie FeinsteinClarrie Feinstein

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