Toronto

Toronto students head back to class after snowstorm, COVID-19 remote learning

Ontario's largest school board welcomed students back to in-person classes on Wednesday, with the exception of six schools where students and staff had to pivot to remote learning due to snow removal issues.

6 TDSB high schools moved to virtual learning Wednesday due to incomplete snow removal, board says

Kindergartener Sasha Mitsui returns to the classroom on Wednesday after a snowstorm and COVID-19 delayed the start of in-person learning for students earlier this week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Parents in Toronto expressed mixed emotions as they dropped their kids off at school for the first time in weeks on Wednesday, saying they were worried about COVID-19 but glad to have their children get back to in-person learning.

The return to physical classrooms after two weeks of remote learning was delayed by two days for the Toronto District School Board after a major snowstorm hit on Monday, with the exception of six schools where students and staff had to pivot to remote learning due to snow removal issues.

Outside an elementary school in the north end of the city, Natasha Chadenga said she was feeling "a lot of trepidation" sending her six-year-old daughter back.

"It doesn't sound like the (education) ministry has put in everything that needs to be put in place to support the schools," she said.

"I'm really concerned that in another one week or four days from now, they're going to be sent back home again, with some sort of outbreak in the school."

Chadenga said she would've preferred if the reopening of schools was delayed a little longer but noted that keeping her daughter home was challenging.

"Because I am a working mom as well, it wouldn't be convenient work wise, but I think when you look at the safety of the children and how equipped the schools are, it would've been better to delay it at least another week or two," she said.

The provincial government highlighted updated ventilation systems, the rollout of rapid tests for students and staff, shipments of masks and school-based vaccine clinics as it announced the resumption of in-person learning.

But recent policy changes mean most teachers and students can no longer access gold-standard PCR tests as the highly contagious Omicron variant strains testing resources. The province is also no longer reporting information about COVID-19 cases in schools but said it will share information about rates of absence — regardless of whether they are virus-related — starting next week.

Public health units will be required to notify families if 30 per cent of a school — staff and students — is absent, but it will not be confirmed whether all absences are due to COVID-19. Many school boards, however, have said they'll share COVID-19 data with families when it is disclosed by staff or students.

Wendy Xu, whose daughter is in Grade 4, said she was worried about the return to school when there are still many COVID-19 cases in Ontario.

She said she's hoping that her daughter's school can update families as soon as there are confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or teachers so she can make a decision about whether to pull her daughter out.

"We're just hoping the school can update information as quickly as possible, so once there are cases, we know, so we know what to do," she added.

Meanwhile, Apoorve Jain said he and his seven-year-old son were both "excited" about the return to schools, given how difficult it was to look after his son in the last two weeks of remote learning.

Jain said he's received three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine and his son has received his first shot and is waiting to receive his second, so he feels "pretty good" about sending his son back.

"We feel pretty safe sending him here," Jain said outside his son's elementary school.

Students in 6 schools could not return to classrooms

While the vast majority of Toronto schools resumed in-person learning on Wednesday, the TDSB said six secondary schools had to continue remote learning because snow removal from their roofs had not been completed by a contractor.

Students had been learning remotely since the beginning of the month after a major surge in COVID-19 cases set in, straining the province's health system and labour force. The province announced last week that in-person learning would resume Monday, although snow hampered those plans for a day or two in many regions.

According to the board, the private contractor hired to plow the school properties "did not complete the job."

"As a result, they will be moving to remote learning," the board said in a tweet.

Earlier Wednesday the TDSB said that approximately eight schools would be affected but later confirmed a total of six had moved to remote learning for the day.

Much of the city is still digging out after a major winter storm dumped up to 40 cm of snow in some areas on Monday. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The following schools moved to remote learning Wednesday:

  • Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute
  • Emery Collegiate Institute 
  • John Polanyi Collegiate Institute
  • Newtonbrook Secondary School
  • Yorkdale Secondary School
  • Weston Collegiate Institute

There are also roughly 10 elementary schools that were only partially plowed, but remained open for classroom instruction, the board added.

The TDSB oversees 583 elementary and secondary schools throughout the city.

With files from CBC News

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