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Toronto Star

About a quarter of Ontario parents don’t want to send children back to school, early survey results suggest

Aug 14, 2020 6:58:00 PM

ford lecce2 about a quarter of ontario parents dont want to send children back to school early survey results suggest 14 08 2020 provincial politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

About a quarter of families say they will keep their children at home learning online this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary results of fall attendance surveys from Ontario school boards.

While some boards have wrapped up their telephone and email outreach to find out parents’ intentions for September, others continue into next week. But so, far it appears that a majority of parents will send their children back to class, despite the ongoing controversy about the provincial government’s decision not to mandate smaller classes in elementary schools and some high schools.

“What we are hearing — and we don’t know for sure — but when parents are asking about sending their children, it might be about a quarter of the (student) population” that will be learning remotely, said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board said about 25 to 30 per cent of families of its 81,000 students are option for home learning, though survey results continue to come in.

Alexander Brown, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said parents have until Monday to respond and it is too early to tell.

However, an earlier survey by the board found that about 66 per cent of parents said they were likely to send their children back to school in September, while 73 per cent of students wanted to return in-person.

“We don’t have the final numbers on that yet,” Brown said of the outreach to parents that began last Monday. “We are hoping that we will get a lot of people” to return, despite the changing circumstances.

Abraham said boards are now working to decrease class sizes after Thursday’s announcement by Education Minister Stephen Lecce who gave them permission to access additional contingency funds, freeing up about $500 million to hire extra staff to hire more teachers or lease extra space for smaller classes.

At issue are elementary classes, which can currently have up to 30 students in some grades. Parents and critics are pushing for classes closer to 15 — which is the target the Toronto public board is hoping to reach, although it says it may need to delay the start of school for a week to reorganize classrooms.

Lecce said Friday that boards can have an extra week to stagger the start of school in September, “meaning if they want to do kindergarten and grade one on day one, and then introduce the grade twos and threes in the next day, and sort of build that up to Friday, that is fair.

“And of course, we understand the principle behind it, which is to minimize contact, to maintain the integrity of these cohorts as they get into class. So that flexibility is being provided.”

Boards, however, are balking at dipping draining their contingency funds. The York Region District School Board says it can access about $30 million and will “use a portion of reserves to fund safety measures and other costs as we look to reopen schools.”

The school boards’ association said its members “are frustrated and concerned” about using up reserves, which are typically earmarked for future projects, said Abraham.

“Yes, it’s a pandemic, and yes it’s unprecedented ... but we aren’t just putting this money away. It isn’t just sitting there — it’s there for a reason,” she said. “Reserves in school boards are designated for something ... we budget for (a project), and put a little bit away and a little bit away.”

She said the last-minute announcement “is really unfortunate” and had boards been given the information back in May or June “we would have had more time to carefully consider this, and the impact, and how we can leverage this for our students.”

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

U.S border closed for another month as Canada braces for fall surge of COVID-19

Aug 14, 2020 5:58:15 PM

theresa tam us border closed for another month as canada braces for fall surge of covid 19 14 08 2020 federal politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

OTTAWA –Canada and the U.S. will keep their border closed to non-essential traffic as Canadian public health authorities warn they expect a fall spike in COVID-19 cases that could still overwhelm the health-care system.

The federal government released new data projections Friday that suggested a “reasonable worst case scenario” could be an outbreak this autumn that exceeds the severity of COVID-19’s impact in Canada in the early spring. That’s when the virus peaked at nearly 2,800 new cases on one day in early May.

Health Canada forecasts “peaks and valleys” of outbreaks until January 2022, some of which could exceed the health system’s ability to cope.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam declined to call it a “second wave,” but she warned that COVID-19 could “collide” with influenza season and produce a perfect storm in hospital emergency rooms.

Tam sidestepped questions about how many infections could be expected during a fall peak, or to say which provinces are the most vulnerable.

But she flagged several worrying signs as schools, bars, restaurants, gyms and other areas of the economy reopen in staggered fashion:

  • The number of new cases reported daily across Canada has increased in recent weeks, including in B.C., which had seemed to stop the virus outbreak in its tracks but on Thursday reported 78 new cases — as many as it had at the height of the outbreak in that province.

  • Since early July, the highest incidence of COVID-19 has been reported among people aged 20 to 39.

  • Countries that had early success in getting the virus under control are now seeing resurgences.

Tam said while many Canadians are following public health advice to use masks, wash their hands and practice physical distancing, it’s vital that they remain vigilant.

“We are on that slow burn kind of trajectory but it doesn’t take much for things to escalate,” said Tam.

Also Friday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced the Canada-U. S. border would remain closed for an additional 30 days — the fifth such extension since March, when the unprecedented shutdown first took effect.

A senior government official, speaking on background, said this week a majority of Canadians are satisfied with the deal that allows essential traffic in goods and services back and forth across the border, but bars travel for tourism or recreational purposes, and don’t want to see the border opened up anytime soon. The official refused to speculate when restrictions might lift but agreed it could continue for several more months.

Tam said the decision to lift restrictions on the border is being continually assessed, but that the situation is “quite clear” in the U.S., which has more than 5.4-million COVID-19 cases — a quarter of the global total.

“Every month when we do evaluate that situation again, we’ll take into account what’s going on both sides of the border,” Tam said. “But as we look at further planning out, we have to look at different options of how we can increase safely — as safely as possible — international travel …using different layers of measures to try and reduce the risk of importation and spread.”

The latest federal numbers show 121,234 Canadians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 4,666 cases still active. A total of 9,015 people have died.

Quebec and Ontario are still the hottest zones for both infections and number of deaths.

The new modelling shows that by Aug. 23, the number of infections could climb to 127,740 and the number of deaths could rise to 9,115.

Tam and Dr. Howard Njoo said federal authorities are advising provinces to “overplan” for the worst case scenario as schools reopen, cooler weather drives Canadians indoors and influenza season returns.

The virus could also evolve and pose new risks, Tam said.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus. It’s continued throughout summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions?”

She said the potential remains for new outbreaks to overwhelm the system, despite efforts to buy new ventilators, medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Tam urged all Canadians, and especially young people, to download the COVID-19 Alert app, which notifies users if they’ve had contact with someone exposed to the virus and has already been downloaded by an estimated 1.9 million Canadians.

Asked if she foresees social distancing and working from home even if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, Tam said the government is assessing the situation “two weeks at a time” and not making long-term predictions.

“It would be extremely unwise for me to tell you what 2022 looks like,” she said.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

Doug Ford blasts Ontario’s gambling agency for bonuses to ‘fat cats’ during the pandemic

Aug 14, 2020 5:14:14 PM

doug ford doug ford blasts ontarios gambling agency for bonuses to fat cats during the pandemic 14 08 2020 provincial politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

A furious Premier Doug Ford is railing against Ontario Lottery and Gaming for awarding executive “fat cats” big bonuses in the middle of a pandemic that has closed casinos.

With some 15,000 private-sector gambling employees laid off due to COVID-19, Ford, whose government floated publicly owned OLG a $500-million line of credit three months ago, expressed outrage at the “unacceptable” payouts.

“For all these big smart guys, they aren’t too frigging smart,” the premier thundered Friday.

“You’ve got to be sitting around the table and think, is this prudent to do this? And I understand the legal ramifications. I was told that the lawsuits will be flying everywhere. Well, save it. Maybe this year ... they should forgo a bonus. They’re making big bucks,” he said, noting departing OLG president Stephen Rigby earns $765,406 a year.

“There’s a couple thousand people that are struggling, can’t put food on the table, and they sit back (and on) the television and radio news and listen to these big wigs — the fat cats, I call them — all making a fortune.”

Ford said he has called Peter Deeb, whom he appointed as OLG chair, onto the carpet and would be having a word with Finance Minister Rod Phillips, whose ministry oversees the gambling agency.

“I’m going to be very, very clear about this. The finance minister knows about this. He’s going to deal with this issue. I talked to Mr. Deeb today and I told him how frustrated I am about this,” he said.

“Believe me, I don’t hold back on anyone. I don’t care if it’s my grandmother at the chair, they’re getting a tongue lashing, simple as that. It’s not fair to the 15,000 people out there.”

The provincial gambling giant — which, unlike private operators, has not been forced lay off staff — defended the bonuses that are based on last year’s results.

“OLG made performance-related payments to all eligible OLG employees for the year prior to the pandemic, consistent with OLG’s employment obligations,” said the corporation’s Tony Bitonti.

“These payments were earned for work completed last year and were paid out with board approval last week,” said Bitonti.

“Last year, OLG generated $2.3 billion for the province to help fund important priorities such as health care and education,” he noted.

However, Bitonti also confirmed that OLG’s compensation program is currently under review.

“Any compensation decisions for this year’s work will be subject to this review,” he added.

The agency would not disclose the amounts of the bonuses.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Ontarians deserve answers, not just tough talk from Ford.

“The premier thinks it is OK to give nothing more than a ‘tongue lashing’ to top OLG executives, or the ‘fat cats’ as he calls them, for their exorbitant bonus payouts while there are over 15,000 ... employees who haven’t worked in five months,” said Schreiner.

“It is also interesting that OLG also received a $500-million loan when the pandemic hit. In light of these bonus payouts, the premier should demand a full accounting of how that coveted government money was spent.”

Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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‘Total cowardice’: Police release surveillance video after Scarborough man fatally shot in back while waiting for ride to work

Aug 14, 2020 3:31:00 PM

Toronto police are appealing for help in identifying the suspects wanted in connection with a “brazen” and “cowardly” murder that saw a Scarborough man fatally shot in the back as he waited for a ride to work earlier this week.

Police investigating after one person injured in Vaughan shooting

Aug 14, 2020 9:04:13 PM

One person has been injured in a shooting in Vaughan Friday night.

Suspect charged after Whitby woman randomly attacked, left for dead near creek

Aug 14, 2020 5:53:00 AM

An arrest has been made in connection with a brutal attack on a Whitby woman who was assaulted while out for a walk in her neighbourhood and left for dead near a creek last month.