A classroom sits empty in Whitehorse on Aug. 12, 2020, just days before the first day back to school. At an Aug. 26 press conference Premier Sandy Silver thanked the federal government for providing the territory with $4.16 million for additional back to school costs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Party calls for details on how $4 million back-to-school funding from feds will be used

Additional busses, protective equipment and classroom changes are all options for flexible funding

The federal government is providing the territory with $4.16 million for additional back-to-school costs.

At an Aug. 26 press conference Premier Sandy Silver thanked the government for the support, but did not provide specific plans for the fund.

“This funding is flexible, and we will be using a different variety of different ways as school plans are changed and adapted in response to the current health situation,” Silver said.

“We have to take a look at what has been already identified by the department as necessities. We’ll make sure that this money is well spent to increase the safety of our students and try to get back to as normal as possible in these unprecedented times,” he said.

The funds will be provided in two parts: around $2 million now and an additional $2 million at the end of the calendar year. All provinces and territories are receiving funding, based on student populations. The total amount is around $2 billion.

Silver referenced additional buses, and personal protective equipment as possibilities, but said the plan for the funds has yet to be determined.

Asked if the funds could go towards resuming full-time school for older high school students, Silver said he would “leave that up to the department, to work with the principals, the teachers, the parents and the school councils to make those determinations.”

Yukon students were the first in the country to return to class, but most other provinces and territories will resume in a week’s time.

The Ontario government plans to use the majority of its money on improving bussing, remote learning and hiring additional school nurses, according to a release on Aug. 27.

The Yukon Party’s education critic Scott Kent said he was surprised Silver was not able to share a similarly specific plan for the funds.

The party is calling for the funds to be used to upgrade ventilation and return high school students to full-time classes.

Currently Grade 8 and 9 students attend full-day class, while Grade 10, 11 and 12 students in Whitehorse attend half-day classes, a move that has been criticized by some parents.

The split times are meant to allow smaller class sizes and physical distancing, but Kent said parents are concerned about how reduced teaching hours will affect students competing for post-secondary spots.

“We’ve got a week under our belts and the premier and his colleagues just don’t seem to have any sense of urgency around trying to get those students back in full-time and trying to make sure that the schools have all the resources that they need,” he said.

“We were surprised and disappointed by his press conference yesterday where he wasn’t able to provide any details.”

“Whether it’s upgrading ventilation or improving sanitization or hiring more teachers, we want to make sure that the dollars go to support to support frontline workers and to support the schools themselves,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com