Ontario school boards set virtual learning plans for 2022-23 year as interest dips – Toronto

TORONTO — School boards across Ontario are developing virtual learning plans for the upcoming school year and some are finding programming is hard to deliver, with significantly lower student interest.

The province requires boards to offer remote learning as an option for the new school year, as it has for previous pandemic school years. But enrollment has been declining every year, and not all boards are able to offer a full virtual school option.

At the Hastings and Prince Edward School Board in eastern Ontario, of its approximately 15,000 students, 113 elementary students plan to take remote learning. But there just wasn’t enough interest from students in grades 9 through 12 to offer them a full virtual school, officials said.

“We’ve seen a significant drop in the number of families and students interested in virtual school,” said Tina Elliott, the board’s superintendent of education.

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“Our 9-12 response, however, was significantly lower than what we have experienced…we have not been able to offer a virtual school in the way we have offered it.”

Interest in remote elementary learning is also well down, Elliott said, but the council can make it work by doing combined grades.

High school students are told they can enroll in e-learning courses, which are more independent online courses rather than direct virtual instruction, as well as courses via TVO, or register for one or two courses in person and the rest online.

The council has tried, during the pandemic years, to maintain connections between virtual students and their home schools, Elliott said, as students eventually return to in-person learning.

“It would certainly always be our preference to support academics in person,” she said.

The Upper Grand District School Board in southwestern Ontario has offered a full virtual school for elementary and secondary students for the past two years, but also doesn’t have the numbers to do so. this year for high school.

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There are 166 primary school students enrolled in a virtual school for the coming year, a spokeswoman said, up from 1,000 this year and 4,500 the year before.

It’s a similar story at the Bluewater District School Board, covering Bruce and Gray counties, where 91 elementary students and 67 high school students have chosen remote learning for next year, representing less than 1% of all students, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, at the Rainy River District School Board in northwestern Ontario, there were too few interested students to offer a virtual elementary school. Of the board’s 2,600 students, only 10 have expressed interest in remote learning, said director of education Heather Campbell.

She could not provide a breakdown of the number of students out of 10 who attended primary or secondary school. Although secondary students could be accommodated through online learning, the council had to tell families that virtual school for primary was not viable, Campbell said.

Gwyneth Evans has re-enrolled her two children in virtual school for next year, with one entering kindergarten and the other in grade 7.

“My daughter’s grades have improved so much,” she said of her eldest in an interview. “She was so much happier at school. Before that, I had to fight with her to get her into class. I was facing crying every day, (she) didn’t want to go.

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Evans’ daughter loves being able to sit by herself and read a book during recess and have a snack from the fridge, being able to concentrate better without the noise of the classroom and not being bullied.

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Her son has enjoyed virtual kindergarten and is working at the kindergarten level in many areas, Evans said. As a stay-at-home mom, she is able to help him when needed.

“I really hope this continues as a permanent option,” she said. “If not, I’m going to have to consider home schooling… After seeing how successful they are in this area, I would never be able to send them back to school in person.”

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said boards need more funding to be able to properly deliver a virtual school.

“Face-to-face learning in a classroom is the best way to learn,” she said. “However, we recognize that for a variety of reasons some children need to learn at home. So? if we are going to offer online learning and home learning, we need to do it in the best way possible.

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The government is providing boards with a $304 million COVID-19 Learning Recovery Fund and they are required to offer remote learning as part of this fund.

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The funding can be used to hire staff for the virtual school, but a government memo to councils said the money is also earmarked for other time-limited staff support to address the resumption of learning , the implementation of Grade 1 of a fully downgraded Grade 9, supports for special education and improved cleaning standards.

A Department for Education spokesman said the government was focused on getting children back to school in person.

“We respect parents and students and their ability to make the best decisions for themselves,” Grace Lee wrote in a statement.

At the Upper Canada District School Board in eastern Ontario, Superintendent Susan Rutters said while the numbers are lower this year, they were able to assess their needs much earlier than in previous years. . This allowed them to create four fully virtual classrooms, where in previous years they did hybrid learning, with part of an in-person class and part online.

Michelle Outmezguine, a Grade 5 teacher in York Region, had about 20 in-person students and a few remote students this year and she’s glad her school board won’t be doing the hybrid again next year.

“It’s very isolating for the (virtual) kid…and I feel like an air traffic controller,” she said.

“You really feel like your attention is divided and it’s emotionally and mentally draining, because you’re focusing on so many different things at once.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Norma A. Roth