May 14, 2019
The Honourable Lisa Thompson
Ministry of Education
13th floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M7A 1L2
Dear Minister Thompson:
Over the past few weeks, you have encouraged Ontario school boards and other education partners to share ideas and suggestions with the Ministry of Education by the end of May. As you requested, we would like to help you "get it right in the classroom to ensure student achievement," which is why we are writing to you again to express our ongoing concerns related to the province's new vision for education, while we await your response to our letter dated March 26, 2019.
As a Board of Trustees, accountable to the communities we serve, we are responsible for providing students with learning environments that support the needs of every learner, and ensure student success and well-being. At this time, given funding cuts and increases to class sizes, we are challenged to do so.
Although we are pleased that the government has provided attrition protection funding to protect staff impacted by class size increases and e-learning, it is not yet clear if this funding will also protect jobs that were affected by cuts to secondary programming and local priority funding that are unrelated to class size increases. These changes have already resulted in staffing cuts at the Peel District School Board and we await details from the ministry on this.
As you can appreciate, the impact of class size increases goes well beyond teacher retention. As a result of these increases, secondary students have less choice when selecting courses, and some are no longer able to take courses in day school that they need to gain access to post-secondary programs. As school staff build timetables, their focus must be on offering courses that all of their students require in order to graduate with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma or Ontario Secondary School Certificate. This means many schools are left with limited or no credit options beyond those that are required for graduation. This has had a significant, negative impact on some subject areas.
Our most affected courses are at the senior level, and in the arts, technological education, and social sciences and humanities. However, we are also seeing cancelled courses in business, computer studies, mathematics, and science, at a higher rate than we would have seen in previous years. For certain students, these types of courses are key to their ongoing engagement in school, as they are disciplines that inspire and motivate learners. The elimination or reduction of these courses can decrease student engagement, which is directly linked to student achievement, credit acquisition and, ultimately, the ability to graduate.
The impact is being felt by secondary students across our board, but especially by our most vulnerable learners. Students who struggle and need specialized help to succeed are most at risk when class sizes increase. For example, students, who require locally developed courses with smaller class sizes to meet their learning needs, are being enrolled in applied level courses where they may not be able to achieve success. While e-learning is proposed as a strategy to mitigate reduced course selection, many of these students do not have the prerequisite skills to be successful in an e-learning environment.
At this time, students and families are being asked to wait a year to take some courses, and others are exploring online learning, Night School and Summer School, and some are looking into private school options. This is not education that works for us. Put simply, increasing class sizes places more value on lowering the provincial debt than in investing in the future of Ontario's children and youth. That is a substantial price to pay.
As we wait to learn our board funding details, we urge you to revisit class size increases. We will continue to advocate on behalf of the communities we serve, and ask that you believe the Ontario Student Trustees' Association when they say that there are gaps between the vision created by this government and the reality experienced by students in classrooms. As representatives of two million students in Ontario, please consult them and other education partners, including school boards, so that, together, we can help shape this province's education priorities.
We trust the feedback provided to you on March 26 and the concerns shared here will be reviewed and taken into consideration as the ministry implements its vision. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss our concerns.
Chair, Peel District School Board
c. Peel District School Board Trustees
Peel Members of Provincial Parliament
Peel School Councils
Peel Student Councils
Peel Special Education Advisory Committee
Peel Parent Involvement Committee
Peel Indigenous Education Advisory Council
Chairs of all Ontario Public and Catholic School Boards
Ontario Public School Boards' Association