Toronto

Parents call delays 'incredibly stressful' as TDSB struggles to start its online classes

Thousands of families with children signed up for virtual learning with the Toronto District School Board still have not been assigned to their classes, leaving many disillusioned with the board's ability to properly manage the new school year.

TDSB expects to have all English stream students assigned to a class by next week

About 78,000 TDSB students are enrolled at the virtual school, with thousands more expected to join next week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Thousands of families with children signed up for virtual learning with the Toronto District School Board still have not been assigned to their classes, leaving many disillusioned with the board's ability to properly manage the new school year.

The TDSB officially started its new virtual school classes on Sept. 22 after multiple delays. 

The board says that about 97 per cent of the approximately 78,000 virtual school students have been assigned to a class, which suggests that more than 2,000 Toronto students will miss at least two weeks of instruction.

Reshma Mathur's two children, in Grades 5 and 8, were among the students left hanging during the delay until they were assigned to classes on Sunday.

"I think the uncertainty and the lack of communication has been very challenging," Mathur said.

"We've known about this pandemic since March, so the assumption was that the TDSB was planning and preparing for this situation," she added.

Parent Kate Fox-Whyte said the board did not communicate with her family during the two-week period before her daughter was assigned to a class.

"We just really didn't know what was going on and so it was incredibly stressful," she said.

Fox-Whyte's daughter Ivy, entering Grade 2, was devastated after missing the original start date.

"Ivy cried that morning," Fox-Whyte said. "She wanted to be back in school; they wanted to be with their friends."

Kate Fox-Whyte, the parent of a Grade 2 student, says better communication from the school board could have relieved stress and helped her family make plans. (Zoom)

Other parents who endured delays have raised concerns with the quality of virtual teaching.

Classes have been riddled with "lots of confusion, lots of technical difficulties," said Mary Dooley, who has children in senior kindergarten and Grade 2.

She said her daughter Sadie's Grade 2 class is consistently falling below the provincially mandated standard of 225 minutes per day of synchronous, or real time, instruction. Dooley said her daughter's class has been receiving between 60 and 120 minutes of synchronous learning per day.

Surging enrolment, teacher resignations

The TDSB has attributed the delays and ongoing struggles in virtual school, which has its own dedicated principals and teachers, primarily to the massive number of students who opted for exclusively online learning this year.

Enrolment at the school has steadily grown since the board first revealed its back-to-school plans in late summer. There are an estimated 78,000 students enrolled at the school now, a figure expected to grow by about 4,000 students after Thanksgiving.

Board spokesperson Ryan Bird said the fluctuating enrolment numbers have made it difficult to adequately staff the school. He said other factors, including the resignation of some teachers from the virtual school, have also contributed to the delays.

"While we have had months since the pandemic began to begin preparing, staff only began three, four weeks ago," Bird told CBC Toronto. "We couldn't begin that process until we had our final registration numbers."

Bird said work is happening "morning through night" to accommodate students still without a class. The TDSB plans to reassign teachers currently working at physical schools.

The board says it expects that all students in its English stream will be assigned to a class by next week. 

"We have tried our absolute best to give exact dates," Bird cautioned. "And as you know, it hasn't worked out."

Students in French immersion and Extended French may be assigned to an English teacher on an interim basis, due to what the board describes as a province-wide shortage of French teachers.

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