Ontario education minister issues statement on return to school

Brief statement by Stephen Lecce mentions safety and mental health

Students in a classroom and their teacher wearing face masks. (Stock photo)

With Ontario elementary and secondary school students returning to school this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce issued a statement on Monday (September 7).

In the brief statement, directed towards students rather than parents, Lecce highlights the health and safety protocols in place at schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If your first day of school is in-class or online, I want you to know we are behind you every step of the way,” Lecce states, mentioning cleaning of schools, staff training, public health nurses, the use of face masks, and “cohorting” of students.

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Lecce does not address the issue of class size, the most common concern raised by parents and teachers as kids return to school during the pandemic.

Instead, Lecce stresses the importance of mental health.

“I want students to know they are not alone,” he states, noting increased mental health funding for school boards and the 24/7 Kids Help Phone service (kidshelpphone.ca). “You are loved and supported.”

He goes on to mention “the importance of quality learning”, and lists a few policy changes unrelated to the pandemic.

The full statement is provided below.

 

“While COVID-19 has forced upon us many changes to our schools and our lives, some things remain constant. The importance of quality education, our collective mental health, and the safety of our students and staff.

This year is like no other in our past. I am fiercely proud of our province, and our collective efforts. We will overcome any challenge on the horizon, so long as we continue to work together in the interests of our students and aggressively work to stop the spread in our communities.

If your first day of school is in-class or online, I want you to know we are behind you every step of the way. Ensuring your schools are safe and thoroughly cleaned, educators trained, supported by the doubling of public health nurses in schools, masking, and cohorting. All designed to keep you safe.

Mental health is important to me. It’s personal. I have seen the struggles of many friends and family. I want students to know they are not alone. You are loved and supported. And if you want to talk or seek support, we have nearly doubled mental health funding to boards to ensure you have access to the supports you need when you need them, including Kids Help Phone, a service available 24 hours a day if students want someone to talk to.

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While we remain focused on priority number one — safety — I want to emphasize the importance of quality learning. It is why we introduced a new elementary math curriculum, it is why we continue to strive to be a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM, and it is why we continue to make the case for merit-based hiring so the best educators are in front of your child’s class. This matters now more than ever.

We will do this, together. Stay positive, kind, and optimistic, and know that by working together, we will overcome any challenge with strength and unity.”

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