Families with children across Ontario can now apply to receive one-time payments to help offset costs as schools and child-care centres across the province remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, educators and around two million elementary and secondary school students switched to a new style of "teacher-led" learning from home on Monday.
The provincial government launched its "support for families" site on Monday, which would provide families with $200 per child up to the age of 12 and $250 per child up to the age of 21 with special needs. This would include children not yet enrolled in school and those in private schools.
"This funding can help parents with the costs of work books, educational apps, educational subscription services, movies and other tools to support learning at home," the website noted.
The government first announced the payments in its March 25 economic update, which replaced the full budget that was initially scheduled for release on that day. Officials said at the time that the one-time payments would cost the government around $340 million.
"With this one-time funding, we’re trying to relief some of the financial burden Ontario families are facing at this time," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said during a press conference with Premier Doug Ford on Monday afternoon.
Families can opt to receive the payment either through direct deposit or cheque. However, the government noted on its website that cheques could take "up to several months." Lecce said families who already received direct deposits as a result of the payments the government issued while unions were holding strike actions would automatically be eligible for the new one-time funding.
"We know during these times...we’re going through, every dollar counts," said Ford, who gave a shoutout to teachers across the province.
"I want to take a moment to say thank you to our teachers, I want to thank you for your hard work in keeping our children on track during (this) challenging time," said Ford. "I know many parents are adjusting to these changes and it is critical during this time that kids keep learning. Education must continue."
Public schools are set to stay closed until May 1 for teachers and May 4 for students, but both the premier and education minister have said they're willing to extend the closures beyond that if necessary. Private schools and licensed child-care centres are also shut, but those closures fall under the emergency declaration the government first announced on March 17 and then extended until April 13. Ford said on Monday that 23 emergency child-care centres had opened to support frontline workers.
Lecce announced on March 31 that under its new "teacher-led" plan, students would be expected to put in the following number of hours for schoolwork:
- Kindergarten-Grade 3: five hours per week (the focus will be on literacy and math)
- Grades 4-6: five hours per week (the focus will be on literacy, math, science and social studies)
- Grades 7-8: 10 hours per week (the focus will be on math, literacy, science and social studies)
- Grades 9-12: three hours per course per week for semestered students; 1.5 hours per course per week for non-semestered students (the focus will be on completing credits and graduation)
Educators and boards have in recent days been sharing information with parents about what to expect in this new learning environment.
John Malloy, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, said in a note to families that education during school closures could include "online learning, phone connections, assignments submitted by email, online classrooms, off-line tasks and more."
"Our hope is that the learning is relevant for your child and that it supports their routine at home," he said. "It is important to note though, that it cannot follow a timetable of a normal school day for students."
A concern raised by many has been a lack of access to technological devices for some families. Lecce previously said the government was working with school boards to address this.
Malloy said staff have been working on a plan to provide "a Wi-Fi enabled device to every TDSB student that requires one in order to ensure continuity of learning," and that deliveries of these devices were set to start Monday and run until next week.
Students will be evaluated in different ways and will still receive report cards.
While students in Grades 1-8 would be graded based on their performance up until schools closed on March 13, "evidence of significant improvement in learning, during the closure period, may be taken into consideration by the teacher when assigning a final grade in a subject area," according to Malloy.
Final marks for high school students would be based on work done before March 13 and Monday onwards. Malloy said teachers would assign "learning tasks, projects and culminating activities."
Teachers would enter mid-term marks for Grade 12 students by April 23 to meet college and university application deadlines, and while marks would be based on work done up until March 13, "formative assessments done post April 6 can be used to improve a student’s mark should students demonstrate further achievement of expectations."
The Peel District School Board (PDSB) issued a similar message to families when it comes to marks and assessments, but said students shouldn't think they get a free pass from school just because they are at home.
"In recognizing that these are not normal times, we do not expect that all students will be equitably well-positioned to learn from home," said a notice from the board, adding that while some students have limited technology, others could see less support from parents who are considered essential workers.
"Our goal is to support every learner, not to penalize them for the circumstances that they find themselves in," PDSB said, adding that they expect students to try to complete all the work they are assigned.
"The intention is not to lower grades; however, in secondary, students who do not 'attend' or complete assigned tasks may be at risk of losing their credits," the board said.
Photo credit: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star