Toronto

Bring home materials you might need for remote learning in new year, Ontario boards told to tell students

Ontario's education ministry is telling school boards to ask students and staff to bring home materials they might need for remote learning when they leave for the holidays in December, just in case school becomes entirely virtual in the new year.

Education ministry says it sent memo to ensure boards prepared for 'all scenarios'

A Toronto school appears in the background behind a snowy fence. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Ontario's education ministry is telling school boards to ask students and staff to bring home materials they might need for remote learning when they leave for the holidays in December, just in case school becomes entirely virtual in the new year.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Deputy Minister Nancy Naylor sent the memo to all chairs of district school boards, directors of education and school authorities on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for the ministry, the memo is "simply a reiteration" to ensure all boards are prepared for "all scenarios" so that they can continue to support students.

"As a reminder, we are recommending that boards encourage students and staff to take home any materials that they may require for remote learning before they leave school for the holiday period so that we can continue to be ready for all scenarios," the memo reads.

The memo maintains that COVID-19 transmission in schools has remained low.

The ministry attributes what it considers low case numbers to its mandatory masking policy for students in grades four to 12, the $1.3 billion it set aside for school boards to use for enhanced cleaning and personal protective equipment, improved air quality for 95 per cent of schools and extra hiring to promote physical distancing in schools. 

"However, the public health environment in Ontario continues to evolve rapidly," the memo reads. 

"The government is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation, including recent trends in hospitalizations and intensive care unit patients."

Textbooks are stacked on a desk at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The memo says school boards were asked before school started in September to ensure they were ready to switch to remote learning exclusively if required. 

"We are encouraged by the planning that school boards across the province have engaged in to demonstrate this readiness," the memo reads.

"We encourage boards to continue to ensure that students and families are provided the resources required to successfully participate in remote learning, including ensuring the availability of remote learning devices for all students."

School boards should also have had plans in place to support special needs students to learn remotely, it adds.

The ministry says it recently launched two new portals, TVO Learn and TVO IDÉLLO, apprendre à la maison, which provide support for students learning remotely.

It says secondary students can continue to access TVO's Independent Learning Centre (ILC) Open House and Portes ouvertes pour les cours TVO ILC in French-language, which provide access to 144 Grade 9 to 12 courses. These resources are designed to help students keep up with learning or deepen their understanding of a specific subject, the memo says.

In a letter to parents, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it has received no indication that schools will close, but it wants to make sure it can implement such a decision by the province smoothly and efficiently should that happen in January. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

According to Ontario's health ministry, a cumulative total of 6,847 COVID-19 cases have been reported in schools across the province as of Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.. A total of 223 were reported on Wednesday.

There are 933 schools with a reported case and 20 schools are closed for in-person learning, including all of the schools in the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. 

TDSB says no indication yet that schools will close

In a letter to parents, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it has received no indication that schools will close, but it wants to make sure it can implement such a decision by the province smoothly and efficiently should that happen in January.

"As we all prepare for a much needed winter break, the TDSB is planning ahead for the New Year and what learning may look like as we return to school in January," Kathy Witherow, interim director of education, says in the letter.

"As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Toronto, so too does the possibility of individual classes, schools or the system moving to remote learning for a period of time. As a result, we want to be as prepared as possible."

A decision to close schools would not be made by the TDSB but instead be based on the advice of public health officials or the provincial government, it noted.

The TDSB adds that families should ensure they have a working device at home, the school has their correct email addresses and confirm they have access to their teachers' online platforms by logging in.

As well, families should bookmark the Student Virtual Learning IT Support page, it says.

 

With files from Mike Crawley

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