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Nearly one-third of Toronto elementary students to learn from home: TDSB


September 3, 2020
By Salmaan Farooqui/The Canadian Press

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TORONTO — Nearly a third of elementary students — and just over a fifth of high schoolers — are opting out of in-class learning at Ontario’s largest school board this year, the board reported as it continues to prepare for a return to class during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto District School Board collected the data as part of a registration survey that drew a response from 89 per cent of parents and guardians on whether they’d take the province up on the option to keep kids home from school and engage in remote learning.

Seventy per cent of respondents with kids in elementary school opted for in-class learning, while the rest said their children would learn at home.

Seventy-eight per cent of parents and guardians who responded said their high school students will be learning in-class.

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The TDSB said it’s trying to follow up with nearly 30,000 parents or guardians who did not respond to the survey.

New academic year nears

The data comes as the TDSB continues to prepare for Sept. 15, when most students will return for the first day of class. Elementary students will return to school on a three-day staggered start from Sept. 15 to Sept. 17.

Under the province’s back-to-school plan, two dozen boards — including the TDSB — will see high schoolers only attending class half the time so class sizes can be reduced to cohorts of 15.

The province did not mandate smaller class sizes for elementary schools — a move the government continues to stand behind, in spite of criticism from Opposition parties, school boards and teachers’ unions — but the TDSB has chosen to lower class sizes in some neighbourhoods deemed at high risk of COVID-19 outbreaks by Toronto Public Health.

The board took that approach after initially proposing a plan that would have reduced elementary class sizes in all schools. But the province rejected that proposal, because it would have required the board to reduce class time.

The city’s health agency said it used socioeconomic factors and case rates to declare 81 schools high risk. The TDSB declared another 13 schools high risk based on larger enrolment and concerns over physical classroom sizes.

Most of the schools designated high risk were in the city’s northwest region, which includes the Etobicoke North, York Centre and York South-Weston wards.

Class sizes at such schools will be capped at 15 for kindergarten students and 20 for grades 1 to 8.

The board said class sizes are generally capped at 27 for kindergarten and grades 4 through 8, and 20 for grades 1 through 3.

As the province’s daily case numbers for COVID-19 remain in the triple digits, TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said the board will look to Toronto Public Health for any advice moving forward.

Elsewhere in Ontario, a trustee from the Halton Catholic District School Board said 15 per cent of elementary and high school students have elected to learn from home.

Nancy Guzzo, a trustee for Oakville with HCDSB, said the board will implement a new average class size of 22, with a hard cap at 25 students per class. The plan will cost 6.8 million dollars and require 52 new teachers, and may require five more portable classrooms, Guzzo said.

She said just under half of the funding for the plan comes from the school’s reserves, while the rest is paid for by federal and provincial funding.

“Nobody likes to tap into their capital reserves because it is there for a reason, but this is a very important reason to do that,” said Guzzo.

“(Reducing class sizes) has been a priority for everybody since Day 1.”