Horwath calls for classrooms to be capped at 15 students

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and local resident Sacha Coutu at Wildwood Park. Tuesday, August 10, 2021. Photo by Natalia Vega).

A mother from Brights Grove who’s getting ready for back-to-school season still has concerns about sending her children to large classrooms, full of unmasked kids next month.

Sacha Coutu joined Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at Wildwood Park on Tuesday. Horwath said Coutu is just one of many parents she has spoken with who are “beside themselves with worry” as September approaches and they don’t want to see classes disrupted again.

Horwath is calling for smaller, safer class sizes to be included in the province’s school reopening plan.

“We’re just urging Doug Ford to step up to the plate. You can’t roll the dice on our kid’s education, on our kid’s wellbeing and their academic health,” said Horwath. “It’s got to be a safe September.”

The leader of the official opposition said capping class sizes at 15 would allow children to be socially distanced and allow for more one-on-one time with staff. She’s also calling for more teachers and education workers to be hired, for staff to be vaccinated, paid sick days, as well as more mental health supports.

The Ford government recently released details of its back-to-school plan but guidance on managing COVID-19 cases within schools was not released. Minister Stephen Lecce later announced $25 million in funding to further improve ventilation systems in schools.

Horwath referred to it as a “back-to-school scheme” and said the fact that ventilation systems weren’t fully addressed last year, is shocking.

“At a time when we need more investments in our schools when we need more mental health and one-on-one supports for our kids, instead, this government has cut our education budget in our province for this year by $800 million,” said Horwath.

Coutu has two school-aged children who are four and 10 years of age. She said her youngest, who has a heart problem and developmental delays, was due to go into a classroom of 28-30 students.

“The plan is to see how it goes in September and if I have to pull them out, hopefully, they’ll be able to get into the virtual school,” she said.

Sacha Coutu and her daughter at Wildwood Park. Tuesday, August 10, 2021. Photo by Natalia Vega).

Last year, Coutu’s eldest child participated in virtual learning. However, even as an independent and classically good student, Coutu said her daughter still struggled when it came time to have questions answered.

Meanwhile, Coutu said her youngest child participated in morning announcements and storytime from home but wasn’t active during virtual learning sessions.

“For a child with communication difficulties, having to sit at the computer and use the button to raise their hand and things like that… it’s impossible,” she said.

Coutu said there is some relief in knowing active COVID-19 cases are low in Sarnia-Lambton, but there is still some concern.

“I didn’t think we would be at this point here where we were still fighting for a safe environment for our kids to go to school,” she said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to keep them safe if we can’t count on the government to look after kids in schools and make sure everything is safe.”

Horwath said she will continue to visit other areas of southwestern Ontario in the coming days.

“For me, the work that I do is all about people, it’s all about everyday folks and making life better,” she said. “You can’t do that if you’re not listening to people, if you’re not connecting with them, if you’re not hearing them, if you’re not engaging with them.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath with Sacha Coutu and her daughter. Tuesday, August 10, 2021. Photo by Natalia Vega).

During her visit to Sarnia, Horwath also visited Refined Fool Brewing Company on Davis Street and the Inn of the Good Shepherd.