Tory says he offered to work with TDSB to find additional classroom space outside of schools
Toronto Mayor John Tory speaks during a press conference in Toronto on February 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
TORONTO -- Mayor John Tory says he has offered to work with the country's largest school board to provide additional classroom space using city-owned facilities but so far, no "formal requests" have been made.
The province's four largest teachers' unions, along with some school boards, have cautioned that when elementary school students return to the classroom full-time next month, many schools will not have enough space and resources to properly physically distance students.
While the Ford government's back-to-school plan does mandate cohorting all students into groups of 15, the provincial government has not decreased the average size of elementary school classes.
Speaking to CP24 on Friday morning, Mayor John Tory said while he feels he doesn’t have a "direct role" to play in designing the province's plan, he has offered to work with the Toronto District School Board to find additional classroom spaces that would assist with distancing students.
"I did make the offer early on to the school board, and the minister is well aware of this, that if the city could help through the use of community spaces... that I would be quite happy to entertain those requests.," he said. "As yet, we haven't had any formal requests."
The province has provided school boards across Ontario with an additional $309 million as part of the plan to return students to school after in-class education was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But critics of the plan have suggested that it is not enough money to provide students and staff with a safe environment.
Facing backlash, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Friday that the province would allow boards to dip into their reserve funds, allowing them access to a pool of up to $500 million in additional money.
The cash, Lecce said, could be spent on securing additional staff and "alternative locations" to allow for greater physical distancing in elementary classrooms.
The move has been met with heavy criticism from teachers' unions and on Thursday night, Carlene Jackson, the interim director of education for the TDSB, said using the board's $131 million reserve funds would not be "prudent or good financial management."
The money, Jackson said, is already earmarked to support ongoing projects, school budget carryovers, and future benefit liabilities.
Mayor John Tory expressed his support for the decision to free up reserve fund money on Friday morning.
"It does come from reserve funds, which are there for a purpose, but as people have pointed out, if it is a rainy day fund, it is raining pretty hard," Tory said.