Ottawa

Parents pan OCDSB plan to bring students back 2 days per week

Some parents with children in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are slamming the public board's proposal to have students in classrooms for just two days a week.   

School board acknowledges frustration, says online learning has been 'very, very difficult'

Malaka Hendela, whose son will enter Grade 4 in the fall, says many parents are unhappy with a plan from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board that would see children in school for only two days a week. 1:05

Some parents with children in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are slamming the public board's proposal to have students in classrooms for just two days a week.  

The OCDSB is holding a special meeting Thursday to discuss options for the 2020-21 school year, which may involve remote learning, a hybrid model or a full return to classes, depending on public health advice.

One option for the hybrid model would have cohorts of students in classrooms two days a week, with schools being cleaned midweek and a different cohort attending class for the last two days. Students would have online learning on days they're not in class. 

Malaka Hendela, who has a son entering Grade 4 in September, said many parents are frustrated the proposal doesn't reflect their children's lacklustre experience with e-learning. She worries the effectiveness of online class hasn't been properly tested.

"We're doing a social experiment and I don't know what the consequences of that are going to be," said Hendala, who is also part of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils.

The concerns are echoed in an OCDSB online survey hosted on Thoughtexchange. Parents were asked about their priorities for September and to evaluate the last four months of e-learning at home. 

The survey has had 3,000 student comments and more than 10,700 responses from parents since it opened Friday, according to the OCDSB. Many condemned the two-day class schedule.

Hendela said parents have taken to social media but it's important they officially address their concerns to the board if they want their voices heard.

"We need people to not just post on Facebook that they're upset. We need people to actually delegate to these meetings because they have to listen and they have to come up with an approach that includes parents," she said. 

The OCDSB said only one member of the public has registered to attend Thursday's special meeting. 

Alternating weeks possible

Trustee Mark Fisher said he is pushing for the school board staff to include trustees and parents in the decision-making process. He said he's heard from parents about their frustrations with online learning — and experienced it himself.

"The online learning environment wasn't great. That was certainly true in our case. We've got three kids in elementary school and we heard that it was not consistent within schools, within grades, and it was not consistent across the district," he said.

Fisher said the two-day proposal would make it harder for parents to plan their work weeks. He said another hybrid option with one week in class, alternating with a week of online learning, is among the other options.

"This is about how we start the year. But if the virus comes back in a second wave in October [or] November and public health officials say we need to clamp things down again, you know, we've got to shift again," Fisher said.

Decision to come in August

Camille Williams-Taylor, OCDSB director of education, said the two-day proposal is a response to public health guidelines; however, she said, the plan is open for discussion.

"We do recognize that our communities are calling for a model that is more robust, that sees our students in front of our teachers more regularly and for longer periods of time," she said.

She acknowledged that many working parents have found online learning a struggle.

"The virtual learning model had been very, very difficult for families," she said.

The OCDSB's education director Camille Williams-Taylor. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Williams-Taylor said the Ministry of Education won't be deciding on whether a hybrid model is needed until August.

"We certainly have a safety question on our hands and we have a responsibility not only to our students [and] their families but also our employees when we consider the realities of COVID-19," she said.

With files from CBC's Jennifer Chevalier

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