Waterloo Region Record

Ontario students deserve better than the blame game


It’s that simultaneo­usly wonderful (for parents) and terrible (for kids) time of year again.

Normally, back to school is a bit like Christmas for parents who, by now, have run out of ways to keep young kids busy and are seriously starting to wonder if their teenagers remember how to write without emojis and add numbers greater than their social media followers.

But thanks to the Ford government, this year’s return to school is also a time of concern and confusion.

Just days before students trot off in their first-day outfits with backpacks full of new school supplies, there’s more that’s uncertain than certain about what this year and beyond will look like for them.

What changes are being made to Ontario’s math curriculum, and will it do anything to raise math scores? Will the new mandatory online high school courses be innovative or simply a cheaper and lesser alternativ­e to traditiona­l classes? How big will real classes be, not just the “average” size the government likes to reference? How reduced will the options be in art, music, science and other electives?

And, of course, what will happen when contract negotiatio­ns really ramp up?

Teachers’ contracts expire three days before students take their seats. Negotiatio­ns on new contracts could, in theory, go smoothly or be lengthy, contentiou­s and, in the worst-case scenario, result in the withdrawal of extracurri­cular activities or a strike before deals are struck.

So, amid all that, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce stepped up last week to “reassure students and their families.”

He announced that class sizes wouldn’t be much larger this year. At 22.5 students in that famously average high school class, that’s up just half a student from last year.

That’s fair enough. But then Lecce suggested that the planned increase to 28 students within four years might not be needed because he’s open to “innovative ideas” that unions could bring forward to save money in other ways.

That’s not about reassuring students or giving parents and educators “predictabi­lity” — another of his claimed motives.

Lecce is doing nothing more than trying to shift the blame for the school changes that students and parents aren’t going to like from the government to the unions.

It’s a typical, if not very successful, negotiatin­g tactic.

But students and parents know well that the reduction in teachers, increased class sizes and, worst of all, more limited course options are a direct result of the Ford government’s education cuts.

Last month, Lecce blamed the reduction in course options for high school students on school boards. Now, he’s hunting for a new target: teachers.

But this isn’t about teachers, it’s about students. And it’s about this government’s decision to save money in ways that will hurt struggling students, gifted students and generally make school a lot less interestin­g for everyone.

When Premier Doug Ford’s government first unveiled its education overhaul, it claimed it was “modernizin­g” the system. Then the first education minister said increasing class size was about making students more resilient. And now, with the new education minister, we’re to believe it’s suddenly all negotiable. But it’s not.

Not so long as the government is determined to reduce its deficit through school cuts that risk the vital education gains that have been made in Ontario.

Ford and his education ministers are fast running out of excuses and ways to sell the unsellable.

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