Boards pivot to Plan B as outbreaks close schools

Local school boards say they're prepared to pivot to remote learning if and when an outbreak of the coronavirus forces them to halt classes and send students home. 

Online learning wasn't their 1st choice, but it's what many students are getting

When a COVID-19 outbreak hits a school, students learn from home. Local school boards say they're up for the challenge. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Local school boards say they're prepared to pivot to remote learning if and when an outbreak of the coronavirus forces them to halt classes and send students home.

An Ottawa elementary school has become the first elementary school in Ontario to close due to COVID-19 after two staff members and two students tested positive.

It's not ideal, but it's something that we're prepared for.- Mike Dubeau, West Quebec School Board

Parents of students at Monsignor Paul Baxter Catholic School in Ottawa's Barrhaven neighbourhood have been told that for the next two weeks their children's learning will move online.

"The entire class including the teacher will move to distance learning," Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) spokesperson Sharlene Hunter wrote in a statement to CBC.

Hunter said it may take a couple of days to iron out technical issues, but she said both students and staff already have the basic tools they'll need to continue learning online.

"All of our staff have received training on the use of the learning management system (Hapara) in order to be prepared for this scenario," Hunter wrote. "They have been posting resources on the learning management system even when students were attending in person."


Hunter said students have had instruction on how to use the remote learning system. Students who don't have access to a laptop will be provided with one. 

The OCSB says students' marks won't be affected while they're learning remotely, and those who require educational assistance will continue to receive it online.

These remote classes are different from the full-time remote learning program some students have opted to take instead of attending school in person.

Outbreaks elsewhere

Monsignor Paul Baxter isn't the only school in the region that's had to pivot to Plan B. Last week, a COVID-19 outbreak closed Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., while 45 students at South Hull Elementary School in the Aylmer sector of Gatineau, Que., were sent home to isolate for 14 days after two tested positive. 

Mike Dubeau, director of education with the West Quebec School Board (WQSB), said a plan for online learning was already in place and went into effect as soon as the school was notified about the positive tests.

"If students have to go home for two weeks or if we have to shut down the school, we switch to online learning," Dubeau said. "It's not ideal, but it's something that we're prepared for."

Currently 250 students are enrolled in the WQSB's virtual learning program. Dubeau said given the unpredictability of the current situation, online learning now has a bigger role to play than ever in education.

"I believe it's an opportunity for lasting change because we're learning new ways to deliver the curriculum, new ways to assess, new ways to teach," he said. "So when we come out on the other side of this pandemic, there's going to be a richness of knowledge on how to teach online and how to evaluate."

Similarly, teachers at Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) schools have been set up to teach remotely through Google Classrooms or Virtual Learning Environments. 

"These were created prior to the start of the school year and are maintained weekly by educators," OCDSB spokesperson Joe Koraith wrote in an emailed statement Monday evening. "Key learning, resources, tasks, etc. are posted to support student learning. Students who are away or who may be isolating would have full access to the virtual classroom."

Koraith said in the event that an entire classroom, cohort or entire school is closed or can no longer meet, students can shift to remote learning "with enhanced synchronous requirements."

"Knowing that we may be required to move from in person to remote with little notice, we are ready to support students," he said.

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