TDSB releases back-to-school plan as concerns over physical distancing persist

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has released more details about its plan for students to return to class this September, and continues to worry about the ability to maintain physical distancing inside classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board also asking parents to decide soon if they will send their kids back to school

Toronto parents are being asked to decide this week whether or not they'll send their child back to school in September. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has released more details about its plan for students to return to class this September, and continues to worry about the ability to maintain physical distancing inside classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board — the largest in Ontario — is also opening a one-week pre-registration process to determine how many parents will be sending their kids back when school reopens.

The TDSB is already warning parents that they may not be able to move between in-class and remote learning plans once they make their decision. 

TDSB interim education director Carlene Jackson said the board is looking forward to welcoming students back to schools and classrooms in September but will continue to remain flexible and recognize that circumstances may change depending on the evolution of COVID-19.

"Regardless of the format school takes at the elementary and secondary level, we are committed to providing students with regular and meaningful learning opportunities as well as connectivity to staff while also maintaining a safe environment for the entire school community," Jackson wrote in a message to parents.

Parents will ultimately decide, TDSB says

In its Returning to School Guide the TDSB noted that families will ultimately make the decision as to whether their children will attend in-person classes or if they will continue with at-home remote learning. 

"Return to School models will be based on direction from the Ministry of Education and guidance from Toronto Public Health," the TDSB said. 

"Both models of face to face and fully remote learning consider the guiding principles and include many factors including student engagement, well-being, learning, staffing, timetabling, space considerations, and above all student and staff health and safety."

The board said it will keep parents informed on what is happening at the school and system level, how it will continue to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, and measures being taken to limit its spread in school communities. 

"The principal at your child's school also plays an important role in providing ongoing information about your school community and will be a valuable resource," the board noted.

Meanwhile, the TDSB also pointed out that families play a critical role in supporting health and safety in school communities. 

"The most important thing families can do to help mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, is to screen their children daily for any COVID-19 symptoms and keep them home from school if they are sick or have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19," the TDSB said

Parents and guardians "should also encourage their child to adhere to the health and safety measures put in place by their school including following physical distancing, practicing good hygiene habits, including hand washing, and wearing a mask as appropriate." 

Additionally, parents are urged to follow their school's local protocols for pick up and drop off at school and any other local health and safety measures in place. 

TDSB trustee Parthi Kandavel says certain Toronto neighbouthoods have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19. (CBC)

TDSB commits to shrinking class sizes but wants more cash

The TDSB is asking for more money so that it can shrink elementary class sizes in neighbourhoods hit hardest by COVID-19, but there are concerns the extra cash won't be enough.

Parthi Kandavel, trustee for Scarborough Southwest, says a motion was passed on Thursday recommending class sizes of 15 at Kindergarten to Grade 3 and 20 from Grade 4 to Grade 8.

"The number attached is $190 million [but] we don't expect that," Kandavel said.

"The ministry made it clear that their fund for the province is $30 million."

On Friday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce pointed to a number of new investments and policies for school boards announced by the province — among them, $30 million to hire more staff to decrease elementary class sizes whenever possible.

Kandavel pointed to the "unique nature of density in Toronto," as well as "our disproportionate number of cases," in making the case for a large chunk of the $30 million.

He said this is coupled with Toronto have some of the neighbourhoods that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.

"[This] demonstrates the needs for as much funding out of that pot that we'd be able to reduce the chance of spread in neighbourhoods that are high-density," said.

"We know from data where the greatest number of cases are."

Ford, Lecce confident about back-to-school plans

On Monday both Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce said they were confident about the systems in place with schools set to reopen.

"We've done everything we possibly can to make sure we have the safest environment, making sure we're adaptable, making sure we're flexible and we continue listening," Ford said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the effectiveness of the back-to-school plan 'is predicated on the willingness of the population to continue to do their part.' (CBC)

Lecce said the back-to-school plan is premised on ensuring every single protocol is in place.

"The effectiveness of this plan is predicated on the willingness of the population to continue to do their part," he said.

Here is the entire TDSB plan for you to read for yourself.

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With files from John Rieti


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