Parents are only two days away from having to decide whether to enrol their children in online or in-class instruction at Ottawa's English-language boards, but educators say the plans are still in flux.
The public and Catholic boards, which both released more details of their plans Monday, are promising online learning will be more structured this fall than what previously rolled out during the pandemic, with five hours of daily learning drawn from the Ontario curriculum and clearer expectations about evaluations.
The two plans differ, however, on how students will connect to their classes.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) said students learning from home will still be part of a classroom and get guidance from a classroom teacher at the start of the day.
Tom D'Amico, OCSB director of education, said in-class teachers won't be simultaneously responsible for online students.
"One of the things that our teachers' union [has] indicated to us in our dialogues is they do not want the classroom teacher responsible at the same time for instructing and supervising students at home and in front of them," D'Amico told CBC's Ottawa Morning.
"Our distance learning won't involve the teacher teaching like you might see in a university lecture hall."
Instead, students at home will have access to "a combination of educators" who may come from different parts of the district, D'Amico said.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) plan for online classes is based on maintaining students' connections with their own schools, but the board may create "virtual classrooms" involving students from across the district if enrolment numbers are especially high.
Both boards said students at home and in school will be able to interact with each other using online tools, and they'll provide Chromebooks for students who don't have access to a computer.
Susan Gardner, president-elect for the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (OCETFO), said while online learning is required for a safe return to school, it's also a "stop-gap" and no one's preferred option.
She said the biggest question for her members is exactly who will be responsible for delivering the OCDSB's at-home version of the curriculum.
"Will it be the teacher who is in the classroom teaching? Is that person also going to be responsible for doing the remote learning? Or is it going to be someone else?" Gardner said.
She said her understanding is the OCDSB will provide training to avoid the steep learning curve some teachers experienced during the sudden switchover to online learning in March.
Both boards say remote learning will incorporate activities to avoid a full five-hour period of screen time every day.
All high schoolers partially online
The Ministry of Education will have both boards split high school classes into cohorts that will attend class for either the first two days of the week or the last two days of the week, alternating Wednesdays.
The objective is to keep class sizes in secondary schools between 12 and 17 students. In the days away from the classroom, students will have five hours of instruction and activities.
"It's going to be new for everyone and challenging," said Stephanie Kirkey, interim president of the local bargaining unit for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation.
Kirkey said teachers want to make sure they get adequate training on the specific suite of programs that their board wants them to adopt.
She said teachers will also require more time if their lessons are meant to be relevant to students both in the school setting and at home.
"Our teachers really want to do the best job they can," Kirkey said.
"They care deeply about students and providing quality education to them. And so ensuring they have enough preparation time to deliver both in-class and remote learning opportunities to students will be really important."