Education Minister Stephen Lecce is defending the provincial government’s back-to-school plan as students get ready to hit the books this week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lecce toured a school bus in Newmarket on Monday afternoon to view the safety and health protocols in place to protect both students and drivers.

Stephen Lecce

Some secondary students in Peel Region are heading back to school tomorrow for an orientation, along with some elementary and secondary students in the Durham District School Board.

Lecce spoke to CP24 and said parents should feel at ease knowing the province has put forth more funding and resources to keep students safe in school.

“...We have, yes, put more funding in place, but we have also put a very thoughtful outbreak management system in place,” Lecce said. “We’ve dedicated a doctor, Dr. Hyer, to lead it. We have public health nurses, assets within our schools.”

The government has provided school boards across the province with $100 million in funding to hire new teachers and has allowed them to use their reserve funds.

But many boards, including the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), are still worried that it will be impossible to guarantee enough physical distancing among students.

This is a common concern among many parents and educators who worry that classroom sizes are still too big.

The TDSB is dipping into its reserves to lower class sizes but warns it will not be enough to meet a two-metre spacing recommendation issued by Toronto Public Health.

The plan caps class sizes at 26 students in junior and senior kindergarten, 20 students in Grades 1 through 3 and 27 students in Grades 4 through 8. The cap on Grade 4 to 8 classes would go down to 20 for schools in neighbourhoods with higher levels of COVID-19.

Lecce said the government has worked with boards in high risk areas to provide more resources to create a safe environment for students.

“We have focused on ensuring that the schools on the ground have the full complement of resources, of PPE [personal protective equipment], hand sanitizer. They are what’s called intensely staffed. Meaning more custodial cleaning, more staffing, more distancing,” Lecce said.

Elementary and secondary students in the TDSB return to school on Sept. 15.