Parents Nervous, Premier Skeptic with TDSB Back-to-School Plans as Ontario Reports Over 100 New COVID-19 Cases

With the new school year quickly approaching, school boards and teachers’ unions are scrambling to finalize a safe back-to-school plan for this Fall that complies with the Ontario’s Governments guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada’s largest school board, recently announced its intention to require all students to wear face coverings as well as providing remote learning this fall through centralized “virtual school” rather than from students’ individual neighbourhood schools.    

During a meeting on Tuesday night, the TDSB approved the motion to ask the Director of Education Carlene Jackson to implement a mandatory mask requirement for “all students, staff, and visitors where two metres of social distancing cannot be maintained”, with some exceptions. 

The motion will also ask that the policy remains in place “until such time as masks are no longer required or recommended in the general population to prevent the spread of COVID-19”.

Additionally, the motion will require the Director of Education to report to the school board on the costs associated with providing students with reusable masks as they return to school. 

Although the talks of students wearing masks have been previously addressed by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, the Premier expressed that he is skeptical about the TDSB’s intention to implement the mask policy. 

The Ford Government had already recommended that all staff, as well as all students in Grade 4 and up, wear face coverings when schools resume this September following the advice from top public health officials in the province. 

“I go with the experts at SickKids. They are the ones who didn’t recommend masks. They said they (the children) would be fiddling around with the masks and you know I have four girls and I know when they were little, four or five years old, it would have been hard to keep the mask on,” said Premier Ford.

“But again, we will be there and we will support the board if that is what they want to do. It is just that keeping a mask on a junior or senior kindergartener might be difficult.”

TDSB wants to centralize remote learning in a “virtual school” as part of COVID-19 plans

According to the TDSB Chair and Trustee for Willowdale, Alexander Brown, there are “simply not enough resources to provide remote learning from individual schools”. 

As such the school board had proposed that it intends to provide remote learning through a centralized “virtual school” rather than from students’ individual neighbourhood schools. 

The TDSB Chair said that the decision was based on an assessment of the school board’s available resources as it looked to reduce elementary school class sizes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and return to school in September. 

“Arranging for remote learning classes carried out by the board’s nearly 600 elementary and high schools became untenable,” said TDSB Chair Alexander Brown. 

“We just do not have enough resources to provide that on an individual school basis. So really it comes down to, ‘What are the resources we have and how far do they go?’ They don’t really go far enough.”

However, the proposal for the remote centralized “virtual school” had prompted concerns from parents that the students, who have been out of class since March, will be further isolated as a result of attending the remote school. 

According to the plan, the “virtual school” will be staffed by the TDSB’s superintendent as well as principals, vice-principals, teachers and guidance counsellors. 

Teachers who chose not to return to in-person classes for medical reasons will also be asked to be redeployed to the virtual school. 

With elementary teachers in class full time under the provincial government’s back-to-school guidelines, the TDSB said that it is “impossible for them to then provide multiple hours of online instruction to students who have chosen remote learning”. 

Parents had mixed reactions to the news from the school board with many saying they are still worried or nervous about sending their child back to school this fall. 

One parent of three young children said that a centralized virtual school only serves to make the option of remote learning even less appealing for her family. 

The parent said that her children already struggled with online classes earlier in the year when the province shut down public schools in mid-March as the COVID-19 outbreak ramped up. 

The mother of three believes that virtual school would add another layer of difficulty to an already trying learning arrangement. 

“It’s a disconnect from her friends and from her community that have already been taken away since March. So to say now you’re going back to school and now your school is on a computer and now there aren’t going to be any of the kids or teachers or administrators that you know and love — that’s not a plan” she said. 

It appears that the sentiments shared by the mother of three was not alone as a recent survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that 66 percent of Canadian parents are worried about children returning to school. 

Avery Swartz, a technology consultant, author and mother of a Grade 4 student in the TDSB, echoed the same sentiments and concerns saying that “It’s a deeply unappealing choice,”.

“Especially because we went through the exercise of trying to do the online learning back in the spring. Let me just say, it did not go well.”

The TDSB has indicated it intends to resurvey parents about the decision in the coming days after one of three potential back-to-school plans presented at Tuesday’s meeting has been finalized and approved by the Ministry of Education.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Update: Province Reports More than 100 new cases for the second day in a row

For the second day in the row, Ontario Health Officials have reported more than 100 new cases of COVID-19.

Earlier this morning, Health officials confirmed an additional 102 new cases of the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday after 125 were reported just the day before, which had been the highest number since the end of July.

The province also reported that one more person has died due to COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,792.

The new infections bring the province’s total number of lab-confirmed infections to 40,972, including 37,215 recoveries and the deaths.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said that 30 of the province’s 34 public health units have reported five or fewer new cases of the disease on Wednesday, with 17 of them reporting no new cases at all.

On Wednesday, Peel Region and Ottawa reported 18 new cases, Toronto reported 33 new cases and Huron Perth reported 17 new cases.

To date, more than 2.6 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Ontario since the virus reached the province in late January.

Despite reporting more than 100 new cases today, Health Officials reported that within the last 24 hours, a little more than 25,000 tests were conducted. 

As of 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15,490 test samples are still under investigation.

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