A Toronto high school principal is reporting that some classrooms at the school contain as many as 40 students but the numbers are expected to improve by next month when the board reviews its staffing levels.
Adam Marshall, principal of Northern Secondary School, sought to reassure parents and guardians in a letter on Monday, saying a provincial plan to reduce the number of high school teachers over the next four years will increase class sizes, but very large classes right now will "normalize."
The overcrowding is temporary, he said.
The Ontario government has said it will limit the average secondary school class size to 22.5 students, up from 22. Because that figure is a board-wide average, individual class sizes could have more students. In March, the government said the average class size would increase from 22 to 28 students per teacher.
"In the first week of high school classes there have been a few isolated cases where some classes have reached as high as 40 or more students. Please know that this will change in the next few weeks to meet the expectations outlined above," Marshall said in the letter.
Marshall noted that parents and guardians have expressed concerns about the class sizes and the impact of recent provincial government funding cuts to education. He said very large class sizes, and the resulting reorganization, won't hurt students' education.
"While understandable, I want to assure you that this is not uncommon for the first weeks of school," he added.
Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board, said the board will sort out the numbers.
TDSB to readjust classes if necessary
"Each year, we will see cases of classes that are larger than they should be. We are hearing isolated cases of some classes that are 40 or more students. Obviously, that's not normal," Bird said.
"But what we do is when we review staffing in the opening weeks of school, we then see where are those classes, where are the students, where are we having more students than we anticipated, and then we can adjust, provide additional staffing, readjust the classes if necessary."
The board has "held back" 80 high school teachers to see where they are needed and it will "release" them to the system to avoid overly large classes, he said.
Bird said it is too early to say whether the very large classes are directly due to funding cutbacks by the Doug Ford government. "We have to first look at all of our enrolment data. Once that's in ... then we can look at that and see how it compares to previous years," Bird said.
According to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, however, Northern is not alone. The union says overcrowded classrooms are due to a drop in the number of secondary school teachers.
Some kids without desks, others standing at back of rooms
"We're hearing from classrooms all over the province that are just jammed with kids ... We have certainly kids who can't possibly expect to be able to get the kind of professional attention that they need," Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF, said on Tuesday.
"The start of the school year is often a little messy, here and there, but we have never seen anything like this," he added.
"In the past, when classes were oversized, boards would have the funding to hire in the additional staff that they hadn't realized they would need on the first day of September. Now, they have been told by the provincial government there is ... no additional staffing coming in to improve the situation."
Alexandra Adamo, press secretary to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Tuesday that schools have to make adjustments.
Schools face 'enrolment challenges,' province says
"With the start to the new school year, schools will be presented with enrolment challenges as new students enrol in the first few weeks of school and as final class placements and other timetabling considerations are resolved," Adamo said.
"School board administration are required to plan and coordinate class and instructional organization based on provincial class size regulations and terms identified in local collective agreements."
In the letter, Marshall said average class sizes under the provincial plan are expected to rise from 22 to 28 over four years as the number of teachers is reduced through attrition. The Ontario government has said that the provincial average high school class size for 2019-2020 will be 22.5 students.
Based on the current attrition rate at the TDSB, the average class size for 2019-2020 will be 23.6 students, an increase from an average of 21.9 students last school year.
High school has process to stabilize numbers, principal says
Marshall explained in the letter that Northern has a process that will stabilize class sizes by October.
The board projects enrolment for every school and every grade within schools each spring and allocates the number of teachers, he said. At the end of the third week of school, schools report enrolments to the board.
"At high schools that experience an enrolment greater than projection, there may be some reorganization of classes and/or they may be assigned additional teachers."