Ontario to 'unlock' C$500 million for school distancing, ventilation

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ontario will allow its school boards to dip into reserve funds to ensure physical distancing in classrooms and will also provide money for ventilation upgrades ahead of the new term in September, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: People maintain social distance as they sit at Humber Bay Shores park while the province prepares for more phased re-openings from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

School boards in Canada’s most populous province will be able to access about C$500 million ($378.3 million) in reserve funding to hire new teachers or lease space. Boards that do not have reserves will be given top up funding.

The province will also provide C$50 million to help upgrade HVAC and ventilation systems and C$18 million to facilitate online learning, Lecce told reporters.

Ontario’s government has been under pressure from teachers, unions and parents worried over class size as students prepare to return to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many were calling for class sizes to be capped.

Lecce said the government would not cap classes, but said the funding would give individual school boards “flexibility” in how they ensure physical distancing measures are followed.

Public schools in Ontario are set to reopen in September, with elementary-age students returning to classrooms on a full-time basis and most secondary students splitting their time between classroom and online.

Students in grades four and up will be required to wear masks at all times, though some exceptions will be allowed.

British Columbia on Wednesday delayed its back-to-school by two days to give students and staff extra time to adjust to new health and safety procedures.

Ontario reported 78 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, though numbers for the large Toronto Public Health unit were not yet available.

($1 = 1.3216 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Julie Gordon and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Tom Brown