Ontario announces class-size increases, sex education revamp

Published On March 15, 2019 | By denissa palmer | Politics

Denissa Palmer & Michelle Halim

Ontario high schools will have a class-size cap raised from 24 to 28 students, Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education, announced Friday morning at a news conference held at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

Class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 will remain unchanged and from Grade 4 to 8 will have a cap increase of one student, said Thompson, who added that no jobs would be taken away from teachers as a consequence of the change.

Thompson also claimed that Ontario’s student to teacher ratio is relatively low, with the changes making Ontario more comparable to several other Canadian jurisdictions.

Ontario’s controversial reversal of the 2015 updated sex education curriculum, sending schools back to the 1998 guidelines which didn’t deal with issues of consent, online security and different sexual orientations, will be further addressed, said Thompson.

Few details were cited at the gathering but the minister suggested that some of the 2015 content would be reconsidered for more “age-appropriate” levels. Thompson also cited an earlier announced decision to sharply restrict cellphone use in the classroom, largely prohibiting it with some leeway granted to teachers to determine if there are special circumstances.

Kathleen Wynne, Education Critic for the Ontario Liberal Party and former Ontario premier, responded to the announcement in a press release.

“The Minister could not answer questions about how quickly these cuts would take place and how many jobs will be eliminated but what is clear is that students, who are the ones on the receiving end of these cuts, will be worse off,” said Wynne.

Natalie Fraser, a Toronto single mother of a child in Grade 1, was wary of the latter decision.

“I think there should limitations to the cellphone ban. Teachers should incorporate technology in the classes. For students to be distracted while the teacher may be teaching also isn’t the best but I think technology should be included in the lessons,” she said.

While changes to the sex-ed curriculum remain to be determined, parents will still be able to opt their children out of the classes.

Fraser, who said she’s “in support of everyone knowing more about their sexual identities,” will not be opting her daughter out of such learning in the coming school years, adding “it’s important that they learn what they need to learn.”

Class size was the most anxiously anticipated element of the morning’s announcements. Fraser is among many parents in the province who have expressed concerns that classes are already often crowded, with teaching staff pushed to the limit.

“Right now (Fraser’s daughter) is in Grade 1 and in a class with 19 other students. Her teacher has said in interviews that she can barely keep track of all the kids because they’re transferring from kindergarten to Grade 1,” said Fraser.

Thompson said the expansion of the high school class cap will decrease the number of students needing to attend class in portables, and that the changes will be phased in gradually.

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