TORONTO — Two Toronto-area school boards are changing their online learning plans, saying the moves will simplify the logistical nightmare presented by a growing number of students who want to avoid brick-and-mortar schools.
The Toronto District School Board on Friday delayed the next chance for elementary students to switch between online and in-class learning from November to January, while the Peel District School Board said it would switch its high schoolers to a "hybrid" model of learning that will see in-person students and their remote-learning peers taught lessons together.
Thousands of elementary students at the TDSB just switched between online and in-class learning earlier this week, following a Sept. 30 registration deadline, said spokesman Ryan Bird, forcing the province's largest school board to completely rearrange classes and reassign teachers.
"This reorganization process literally slammed everything else in the board to an absolute halt while you have dozens of central staff working on this realignment, this reorganization alone," he said. "And we realized a month after just doing it, we couldn't then just do it again."
Bird said the goal is to restore some "stability" to schools, after 7,500 elementary students went from learning in-class to learning remotely this month, while 3,000 students who had been learning from home moved to the classroom.
"This is about not only the stability for the system, but also the mental health and well-being of our students and staff. We didn't want them changing a teacher one month in, and then another month in they have to change to another teacher," he said.
The deadline for the first opportunity for high school students with the TDSB to switch between online and in-class learning had been set for yesterday, but Bird said that has been put on hold while the board figures out how best to approach the impending change.
He didn't say whether the hybrid model, to be adopted by the Peel board, is among those in consideration.
In an email to staff Friday, the directors of the PDSB announced it had little choice but to switch to the hybrid model, because the portion of high school students who chose online learning jumped from 26.4 per cent to 44.6 per cent.
"Our current PDSB Online School structure will not be able to support this enrolment increase," the email obtained by The Canadian Press reads. "With a decrease of in-person learning, our bricks-and-mortar secondary schools also won’t have enough students to offer a full breadth of courses for Quadmester 2."
The directors said they made the "difficult decision to reassign the students and staff currently in the PDSB Online School back to their home schools, and move to a new hybrid learning model, effective Nov. 18.
"Students will continue to attend classes through their chosen learning model (online or adaptive learning), but they will all be taught simultaneously by the same teacher from their home school," they wrote.
The board said the hybrid model balances flexibility and stability, allowing students to switch between online and in-class learning without needing to reorganize classes and reassign teachers.
A similar change took effect earlier this week at the York Catholic District School Board's elementary schools.
But some teachers and the head of the union that represents many of the province's high school teachers have criticized the model, saying that teaching online and in-person require different approaches.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press