Toronto

Significant percentage of GTA students to begin school year online over COVID-19 concerns

A significant percentage of GTA families have told their local school boards they intend to keep their children at home when the new school year begins.

Students who start the year virtually will not be able to transfer to in-person learning until semester breaks

Tens of thousands of students across the GTA will not physically return to school this fall over concerns related to COVID-19. (Submitted by Amanda Williams-Yeagers)

A significant percentage of GTA families have told their local school boards that they intend to keep their children at home when the new school year begins.

At the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), 85,677 elementary school students, or 71 per cent, would return to a regular school day, while 35,389, or 29 per cent, would choose remote learning, according to survey results released by the board at a virtual meeting on Tuesday.

If class sizes were smaller, with 15 to 20 students, 91,549 elementary school students, or 77 per cent, would return to school, while 26,776, or 23 per cent, would choose remote learning.

From Grades 9 to 12, under an adapted model, with smaller class size cohorts and students attending every other day at the TDSB, 37,843 secondary school students, or 83 per cent, would attend school, while 7,622, or 17 per cent, would choose remote learning.

Approximately one in three elementary students at the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) will start the year virtually, according to survey results released by the board on Tuesday.

About one in five secondary students also plan to opt for online learning, said the YRDSB, which serves around 130,000 students.

About one in five students at the Durham District School Board (DDSB) have also opted for full-time online learning to begin the new school year.

The DDSB confirmed on Tuesday that 13,635 students will start the year virtually, which includes 10,749 elementary students and 2,886 secondary students.

The board serves around 70,000 students in total.

Thousands more expected to opt for virtual learning

School boards across Ontario are giving families the option to continue virtual learning when schools open their doors in September for the first time in nearly six months.

The YRDSB and DDSB plan to allow families to transfer from virtual learning to in-person learning, and vice versa, at the end of terms within the school year. At the moment, there is no option for part-time online learning.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called the province's back-to-school plan the 'best' in Canada. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

It is not yet clear how many Ontario families will eventually opt to keep their children at home due to concerns around COVID-19, though more school boards are expected to reveal enrolment figures as the school year approaches.

A national survey released Tuesday by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that 63 per cent of parents said they planned to send their kids back to school in September, while 66 per cent said they were worried about a return to school.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has steadfastly defended the province's back-to-school plan, which has been the subject of criticism by some educators, parents and public health experts.

"It's not so much about the plan, it's about COVID. They're nervous about COVID, I'm nervous about COVID," Ford told reporters during a Tuesday news conference.

"But we're doing everything in our powers, through the medical advice, the health table, the chief medical officer, to come up with the best plan."

With files from The Canadian Press and Ali Chiasson

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