School board north of Toronto scraps virtual school in favour of hybrid model

A school board north of Toronto is scrapping its virtual elementary school program in favour of a hybrid model that will combine in-class and remote instruction, saying it was making the move to support a growing number of online learners.

Previously, remote elementary students with the York Catholic District School Board were taught separately online.

In a letter sent to parents Wednesday, the board said that in-person students and their remote-learning peers will now be taught lessons together. The change takes effect next week.

“Given the various operational and staffing challenges faced in the current remote learning model, and the need to find a solution that is sustainable for the remainder of the school year, a decision has been made in the best interest of all elementary students,” wrote Mary Battista, the board’s interim director of education.

Battista did not provide details on the board’s challenges but said in a separate statement that the change would help accommodate the number of students moving from in-person to virtual learning.

“Since the start of the school year, we have received numerous inquiries from families requesting to move their child from in class to remote learning,” she said.

Remote students will now be taught virtually from their home schools, which will allow them to learn alongside their friends, she said.

The new model will also allow for a more seamless transition from in-class learning to remote learning throughout the school year, Battista said.

“If parents wish to transition their child from face-to face to remote learning, they may now do so at any time,” she said in the statement. “As well, if students or classes need to self isolate, or schools closed due to COVID-19 cases, the transition to full remote learning will be seamless.”

All elementary schools in the board will be closed on Tuesday next week and the new hybrid model will launch the following day, Battista said.

In-person classes will continue as usual, she said, while remote learners will join every day through Google Classroom.

“It will not mean more students in the classroom because any additional students will be remote learners,” Battista said. “Most face-to-face students will remain in the same class with the same teacher.”

The same hybrid model has been successful with the board’s secondary schools since the start of the school year, she said.

Filomena Ferraro, president of York unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said the schools in the board have seen major shifts from in-class to the virtual learning as parents pulled their kids out of physical classrooms on a daily basis over the last month.

“A lot of students were in limbo and had no teacher in the virtual system,” she said. “The board did what they had to do to make it work.”

Meanwhile, teachers in the nearby Peel District School Board said they received memos from principals about a similar shift expected to get underway in mid November.

Mary Fraser-Hamilton, a high school drama teacher with the Peel board, said she was dismayed. The idea sounds good in theory but presents a range of issues in practice, she said.

“Teaching online and teaching in person requires different skill sets, it requires different strategies, it requires different practices, you do different activities and you teach in different ways,” she said.

“It’s going to turn into park-and-bark where teachers just stand up and lecture.”

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The Peel board said it is currently exploring what adjustments would be needed if there are significant enrolment changes in both elementary and secondary schools. Families have until next Wednesday to decide if they want in-class or remote learning.

“We’ll have a better idea of what changes will be needed following the deadline to switch learning models,” said spokeswoman Kayla Tishcoff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020.

TORONTO STAR