LONDON, ONT. -- With Ontario Premier Doug Ford expected to release back-to-school plans this week, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has released details of how his party would return students to class in September.

“I sincerely hope the government takes the plan that we put out today. It’s bold, it’s ambitious, I believe it is doable. It’s an important investment that a provincial government needs to make in public education, at this critically important time,” Del Duca says.

The fully-costed 'Students in Schools Action Plan,' would see London, Ont. students back in classrooms in groups of no more than 15 students.

In the City of London alone, the plan requires 820 new classroom locations, hiring 860 additional educators and 440 more caretakers to enable safe learning in the Thames Valley District School Board and London District Catholic School Board.

Del Duca says, “I’m nervous as a parent, that we’re going to see a half-baked plan from Doug Ford at some point this week, but I’m going to remain hopeful for the time being that they will find a way to get it right. And I hope that they borrow liberally from the plan we put out [Monday].”

Prachi Srivastava, a professor of global education at Western University agrees time is running out.

“Heading into September, we’re already really into August, there really isn’t that much time. We would have liked to see this kind of cost estimate earlier, because I think it will push the government to make a solid decision. I hope this leads to more real action.”

Del Duca stresses that a plan for returning students to school should have been created months ago through consultations with school boards, educators and parents, to facilitate the implementation of training and support.

“Right now we are looking at a situation, where, again, thousands and thousands of families don’t have clarity. Moms and dads are being forced or might be forced to make decisions about do they choose their career over their kids safety, whether their kids are going back to school. So I’m looking for clarity this week.”

Srivastava adds preparation for both this year and next is preferable, “In terms of planning, this is what we’re wanting to see. We’re wanting to see sustained planning, we’re wanting to see emergency planning, but we’re also wanting to see longer-term planning.”

According to the Ontario Liberals, it would cost $3.2 billion to roll out the one-year plan across the province, which would include:

  • $1.3 billion for 15,000 more elementary teachers
  • $500 million for 10,000 more caretakers to keep elementary and secondary schools clean
  • $200 million for 14,000 new classrooms in community centres, campuses, arenas, etc
  • $170 million for 2,000 more secondary teachers
  • $80 million for school transportation including cleaning, retrofits and staggered starts
  • $120 million for cleaning/hygiene supplies and equipment
  • $120 million for 1,500 special education professionals
  • $200 million for new devices for students and educators
  • $75 million to reverse cuts to mental health supports and hire 1,000 more mental health professionals
  • $110 million for personal protective equipment for students and staff
  • $25 million for parental engagement and communication
  • $290 million contingency

As for where the province will find all those teachers, Del Duca says, “Today in Ontario, there is somewhere around 70,000 to 75,000 certified teachers who are members of the Ontario College of Teachers, who are not currently teaching in our public system.”

The Thames Valley District School Board told CTV news on Friday, that representatives were expecting to meet with the Ministry of Education this week to learn whether the plan was to have students learning at home, in school or a blend of the two (an adaptive model).

And Srivastava believes the plan may have to be adapted to regional differences, not uniform province-wide.

“What I would like to see, is this idea of a localized reopening, which is community-based, a serious remote learning plan which integrates all of the different services that we need. At the very basic level, smaller class sizes.”