Toronto

York Region parents say public school reopening plan doesn't give teens enough time with teachers

Parents of many public high school students north of Toronto are concerned that their teens will not spend much time in class face-to-face with teachers under a reopening plan created by the York Region District School Board.

Mother of 4 children says York Region District School Board should have produced a better plan

In a letter to families on Saturday, York Region District School Board unveiled its plans for the reopening of schools and a parent says many were shocked at the amount of face-to-face time with teachers that high school students will receive. (York Region District School Board)

Parents of many public high school students north of Toronto are concerned that their teens will not spend much time in class face-to-face with teachers under a reopening plan created by the York Region District School Board.

Shameela Shakeel, a mother of four children, said she formed a Facebook group, Families for Safe Schools in York Region, last week for parents to discuss their concerns about the reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It has more than 400 members already.

"There is a lot of concern," Shakeel told CBC Toronto this week. 

When the board unveiled its plan recently, parents were shocked, she said. High schoolers will spend what seems to be 25 per cent of their scheduled class time actually in class and she estimates students will see their teachers just nine times per course over the course of the semester. 

Shakeel said many parents assumed their high schoolers would spend 50 per cent of their class time attending class and 50 per cent learning online through more of a hybrid model.

"The reasoning behind it doesn't make sense. There's a lot of us who are now trying to advocate for change," she said. "I understand that we are in pandemic. I think everybody does. We weren't expecting to go back to normal. But we were expecting more face-to-face time for our high schoolers."

Shakeel added that the board's timetables used to mirror that of the York Catholic District School Board, but this plan is different from that of the YCDSB.

The YRDSB has not approached municipalities to find whether it can use public space that is not currently in use for classrooms, she added.

"I think our government and school board has really taken the easy road. They haven't really looked at other options as far as I know," she said. "They have had time and they certainly have a few more weeks to pull it all together. I just feel like they are taking the lazy way out. They are not making enough effort to make a solid plan."

Shameela Shakeel, a mother of four children, said she formed the Facebook group Families for Safe Schools in York Region last week for parents to discuss their concerns about the reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 'We weren't expecting to go back to normal. But we were expecting more face-to-face time for our high schoolers.' (Bassem Shakeel)

As well, she said there are issues around equity in the home environment and Internet access when it comes to online learning and these issues can cause stress for families.

Board receiving calls from concerned parents

Under the YRDSB secondary school model, students will continue with their classes through a "modified school schedule." That includes online learning, as well as both what the ministry calls both synchronous or real time and asynchronous learning or without real-time interaction, where teachers post assignments and students work on their own, during the school day.

In an Aug. 8 letter to families, the board says of its secondary school plan: "In the morning, attending cohorts will be in schools for in-person face-to-face learning with their teachers. Students will leave the school and later engage in live online learning for their afternoon classes with the entire class. On non-attending days, students will engage in asynchronous and/or synchronous learning in the morning and then engage in their afternoon classes through live online learning with the entire class."

The board is receiving calls from concerned parents.

Plan meets education ministry requirements, board says

Steven Reid, associate director of education for the board, said the plan drawn up by the board meets the requirements set out by the Ontario education ministry for an "adaptive model" of education, maximizes the health and safety of students and meets the requirements of collective agreement of secondary teachers. 

"We would be providing the same amount of time, in class time, for our students as other boards of education where those boards of education have been identified that they must move forward with an adaptive model," Reid said on Tuesday. 

"With an adaptive model, you have to cohort your students and they attend on alternate days. When you look at other school boards that have an adaptive model, we have the same amount of time face-to-face as those boards."

The model cannot be changed, for example to a quadmester system, because of the collective agreement, he said.

Reid said high school students, on days when they are at school, will be in class for two and a half hours. "Right now, based on the adaptive model, we are only allowed to have upwards of 15 students within a classroom at one time," he said.

A custodian cleans a classroom in March after the pandemic hit. School will look differently when students return in the fall. In Ontario, there will only be 15 students in a classroom at one time in schools that have to have an 'adaptive model.' (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The board can increase the amount of face-to-face learning or in class learning once the ministry allows it to do so, he said.

"We absolutely want to see our students face-to-face with teachers," he said. 

More information, with link to an online handbook, will be sent to families of students on Wednesday. There will be a question and answer section. The board's website will also be updated.

"We are looking forward to seeing students back in class," Reid said. "We strongly believe that we will be providing a safe environment for our children."

Families have until the end of day on Friday to decide whether their children will attend school in person or online. Parents need to make the best decision for the safety of their children and families, he said.

Ministry has list of schools that must modify schedules

Under the Ontario education ministry's guide to reopening Ontario's school, YRDSB is considered a "designated school board," which means it will reopen with "adapted in person teaching and instruction" in September.

"Secondary schools in designated school boards will open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students, attending on alternate schedules that would include in person attendance for at least 50% of instructional days," the ministry says in the Guide.

In addition to YRDSB, Greater Toronto Area boards that are designated include Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Peel, Dufferin-Peel Catholic, York Catholic, Durham, Durham Catholic, Halton and Halton Catholic.
 

With files from Derick Deonarain

now