Statement to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson

Limestone Learning Foundation
Statement to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson
Posted on 04/03/2019
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Below is the text of letter send to the Minister of Education Lisa Thompson on behalf of the Limestone District School Board of Trustees.

Dear Minister Thompson:

I am writing you on behalf of the Limestone District School Board of Trustees to express our concerns regarding planned changes to several programs and services currently offered to Ontario students. We join our Ontario Public School Boards’ Association colleagues in voicing our displeasure with the negative effect some of the proposed changes would have on our students and staff.

While the recent announcement about enhancements to your proposed changes for the Ontario Autism Program did provide some encouraging news regarding the elimination of income testing, expanding eligible services, and creating a longer transition period for students currently receiving supports, we remain deeply concerned as to how the overall plan will best serve some of our most vulnerable students, particularly those with the most complex needs.

We have additional and equally substantial concerns about potential changes affecting secondary schools across the province. The proposal to increase the average secondary class size to 28-1, up from 22-1, will have dramatic and harmful effects on students and staff.

Evidence-based research clearly indicates that larger class sizes can drastically and adversely affect student achievement and well-being. Larger classes would mean less support for individual students and would disproportionately impact students with special needs. With moderate class sizes, students are more engaged, and can learn more effectively, in a supportive environment that allows teachers to develop relationships with students, and assist those who require additional time and resources.

Increasing average class sizes in secondary will result in fewer course selections for students. Some of our schools are already challenged in offering students the courses they want and need to help them pursue their post-secondary pathway of choice – apprenticeship, college, university, or the workplace. Limiting student choice will not help prepare them for the future.

The proposed implementation of mandatory eLearning credits for secondary students also needs a second look. We know from past experiences that online learning works extremely well for some students, but not all, particularly those who benefit from a more collaborative and structured learning environment. This stance has been clearly stated by students themselves via the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association which has asked for a reversal of this proposed graduation requirement.

Differentiated instruction creates confidence in students, and better prepares them for success. Introducing a method of learning that is not conducive or flexible to all students could cause undue stress and anxiety that could compromise student mental health and well-being.

We recognize that reductions of this magnitude will also adversely affect our teaching staff. While attrition is a preferred method for dealing with staff reductions, it would likely not offset all reductions due to the depth of these proposed cuts. Conservative estimates indicate a potential reduction of as many as 80 secondary teachers in Limestone. Cutting teachers also means cutting student extra-curricular programs, which are voluntarily supported by dedicated teaching and support staff outside of their regular duties. We know extra-curricular activities are an important part of the student experience, which also contributes to mental wellness. These cuts could also significantly reduce the capacity of supervision during the school day potentially affecting the safety and well-being of students.

Although the Grants for Student Needs (GSNs) have not yet been released, preliminary planning assumptions by staff suggest that the decrease in secondary classrooms could result in a reduction of approximately $4.85 million in operations funding in Limestone. Even with anticipated funding increases of about $2.67 million, this still leaves our school board with an estimated $2 million shortfall. We are deeply troubled by these reductions which will only challenge an already overburdened system. Furthermore, the lateness of the GSN funding will hamper our ability to adequately prepare our budget for the upcoming school year.

With regard to revisions to curricula, we would ask that central board staff be provided with ample time and resources to effectively review the changes and to work with teaching staff to clarify the new curriculum expectations and support their implementation. As you know, a coherent and well-articulated curriculum is essential for providing students with relevant and engaging learning experiences.

It’s important to note that not only will these proposed changes have a profound impact on our students and staff, but they will surely prevent the Board of Trustees from delivering on our commitments and outcomes laid out in the Board’s multi-year strategic plan – a plan developed with input from our students, families, staff and the broader community.

A strong public education system plays a significant role in ensuring we are best preparing our students to embrace a changing world as lifelong learners and informed, responsible citizens. Fiscal responsibility cannot trump our duty to provide students with an effective and engaging educational experience that best prepares them for the future. We ask that you continue to consult and work collaboratively with OPSBA, school board staff, and union and federation partners to ensure equitable and sustainable funding to support the achievement and well-being of all students. Further, we request that any approved changes are implemented in a robust and thoughtful way to ensure a smooth transition for all students.

By working together, we can create a vision for education of which we can all be proud.

Suzanne Ruttan
Chair, Limestone District School Board

The Limestone District School Board is situated on traditional territories of the Anishinaabe & Haudenosaunee.