Ottawa

Some Ottawa students still waiting for 1st day of school

Some children in Ottawa's largest school board are still waiting for their first day of school — almost a month after classes began for thousands of their peers.

'It's unfair,' says father of Grade 3 student in education limbo

A file photo of a student taking part in virtual school with her teacher and classmates via Zoom on April 2. About 450 children in Ottawa are still waiting for their first day of virtual school. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Some children in Ottawa's largest school board are still waiting for their first day of school — almost a month after classes began for thousands of their peers.

Virtual school started Sept. 18 for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) but there wasn't enough space for each student who requested an online spot. At the beginning of October, there were about 400 elementary students and 50 high school students who hadn't had any kind of schooling.

Back in August, families had to decide whether their children would attend school in person or continue learning online. When school started in September, OCDSB had about 17,000 students learning virtually, 13,000 of them in elementary grades.

Ahmed Shehata's Grade 3 daughter is one of those stuck in education limbo.

"As a parent I just feel it's unfair," said Shehata.

With a medical condition that puts her at high risk for COVID-19, Shehata decided before the deadline to enrol her in a virtual classroom.

We're certainly concerned about those students who aren't in either our face-to-face or our virtual environment.- Shawn Lehman, OCDSB superintendent of instruction

The family has yet to receive any instruction from the OCDSB. That makes Shehata's daughter a part of a class of students that isn't in class at all. 

Shehata has called and emailed the board "countless" times. He said sometimes they get a response, sometimes they are told to remain patient.

2,000 on growing wait-list

Though OCDSB has been trying to move hundreds of students into newly created virtual overflow classes, there isn't room for everyone.

Even after the board frees up space this week in both elementary and secondary remote learning classrooms, superintendent of instruction Shawn Lehman said there will still be hundreds waiting.

About 1,400 elementary students and 600 secondary school students are on the OCDSB wait-list for remote learning. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"We're certainly concerned about those students who aren't in either our face-to-face or our virtual environment," said Lehman.

With a surging second wave of COVID-19, more families across Ottawa want to pull their kids from brick and mortar classrooms, adding to the wait-list.

He said about 1,400 elementary students are currently on that wait-list, with newly created capacity to admit 1,000 remote learners. Out of the 600 secondary school students waiting for a spot in a virtual classroom, only 150 will get a spot.

Looking to hire more virtual teachers

Lehman said the main obstacle to creating more virtual classrooms was finding good teachers from a pool nearly fished out by remote-learning demands.

Lehman said the board was still trying to hire about three new teachers.

He said officials understand that families are concerned, but is encouraging families to send children to in-person school until space is available.

While Shehata waits for a space for his daughter, he wonders why the need wasn't predicted.

"I was just maybe hoping for better planning, since you had the summer and you were expecting it to be this way in the fall," he said. 

With files from Amanda Pfeffer

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