'Significant' portion of OCDSB students opt for remote learning

Preliminary results from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) show more than one-quarter of elementary school students and more than one-fifth of high school students have chosen the remote learning option this fall. 

26.9% of elementary students, 21.5% of secondary students choose online learning

Mark Fisher, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee, says school boards may have an easier time crafting a remote learning plan when there are more students who opt in. 0:58

Preliminary results from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) show more than one-quarter of elementary school students and more than one-fifth of high school students have chosen the remote learning option this fall. 

Parents had until Sunday to decide whether their children would attend school in person or continue learning online. On Monday afternoon, OCDSB trustee Mark Fisher told CBC 91 per cent had responded.

With the school year set to begin Sept. 3, Fisher said the results indicate the board will have its work cut out for it to get both streams up and running in time.

"We're going to have to think long and hard about how to set up ... our online environment, because there is a significant number in my view who are choosing that option," he said. "But also ... how do we build high-quality learning spaces that are safe in school for our staff and students?"

As of Monday afternoon, responses had been submitted for more than 46,000 elementary students, 26.9 per cent, or more than 12,000 of show have opted for remote learning. Among the nearly 22,000 high schoolers who responded, 21.5 per cent, or nearly 4,700, have chosen to learn at home.

Fisher said these numbers are consistent with what other boards in the province have seen, and he believes they signal parents across Ontario are approaching the new school year with greater expectations for remote learning.

The OCDSB is expected to update its back-to-school plan on Wednesday, including a revised high school schedule. The board's initial proposal proved controversial when parents discovered secondary students would be at school for as few as five hours per week.

Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Association of School Councils, says students who are learning remotely are at risk of feeling disconnected from the wider school community. 0:38

Last week, the Ministry of Education told the board that proposal fell short of expectations.

"They want us to really try our level best to try and get, you know, 50 per cent in-school learning for our kids," Fisher said. 

Wednesday's update will also provide more details about the remote learning model. 

Class sizes a concern

Susan Gardner, president-elect of the Ottawa Carleton branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said with so many students opting for remote learning, class sizes at school could potentially increase.

"In fact, that might actually increase the safety concerns for those students who are still in the classroom. if in fact what that means is that the classrooms will be reorganized so there's a larger number of students in the room," Gardner said. 

Even if there are fewer students going back to the classroom, Gardner said a Grade 4 class that has 15 students may be merged with a Grade 5 class.

She said it's also unclear what new demands the large remote learning cohort will place on teachers.

"What will this look like for teachers who are teaching remotely? Who will those teachers be? Will they be attached to the classroom? It sounds like they may not be," Gardner said. 

Last-minute planning

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, told Ottawa Morning he's concerned by the last-minute nature of the back-to-school planning. 

"Now you have this scrambling going on last minute as they have to revise plans that they didn't have clear parameters on in the first place," Bischof said. 

He said he's also concerned about the health and safety of teachers returning to the classroom. 

Susan Gardner, president-elect of the local branch of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says parents and teachers are still wondering what online learning will look like in the fall. 0:54

Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils, said she's concerned about how schools will maintain cohesion between students who attend class and those who are learning remotely.

"We're all going to have to look at our schools and see who's missing and reach out to them and make them feel still part of a community, but at the same time they're going to have to start building community with other parents," Hendela said.

"The kids will need that. They cannot be online all day with people they don't feel a connection with."

with files from Matthew Kupfer

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