By Sue Tiffin
While many elementary and high school students are returning to schools in the county this week, those who have opted out of in-person classes by enrolling in the TLDSB Learning@Home Elementary School and TLDSB Learning@Home Secondary School are preparing to return full-time beginning next Monday.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board said there was no way to avoid a delay in their TLDSB Learning@Home Elementary School and TLDSB Learning@Home Secondary School virtual school roll-out. Teachers are introducing themselves this week, with full-time school beginning Sept. 21.
“We are currently staffing for classes and developing timetables and schedules for students,” said Sinead Fegan, TLDSB communications officer. “Classroom teachers will be contacting families between Sept. 14 to 17 to provide more information about scheduling and expectations for learning at home. Students will take part in an online meeting using Google Meet on Sept. 18, with full online learning beginning Sept. 21. For secondary students participating in at-home remote learning, there will not be classes between Sept. 8 to 15. Students will receive timetables by Sept. 14. Full at-home remote learning will then start for all students, Grade 9 to 12, on Sept. 16.”
For the elementary online program, TLDSB needs 99.2 full-time equivalency teachers. Approximately 75 teachers have been moved from schools in the TLDSB region for these roles, with Fegan saying there is a need to hire 24.5 full-time equivalency teachers as of Sept. 14. The secondary online program needs 214 sections filled, and has moved 155 sections from home schools, with a need to hire 59 more sections, equal to about 10 full-time equivalency teachers.
On Sept. 4, days before the traditional school start of Sept. 8, parents with students in elementary school received an email from TLDSB greeting Learning@Home families. It noted that Tanya Fraser, who will be responsible for Grade 4 to 12, and Leslie Wright, who will be responsible for kindergarten to Grade 3, are “the proud principals of this newly being-created school,” and told parents, “Classes have not been created yet because not all the hiring is completed.”
“There will be a staggered start so school will not be starting on Sept. 8th,” read the email. “Once hiring is completed and classes formed (this may take a few more days), your child’s teacher will contact you to introduce themselves and learn more about your child and family.”
The Sept. 4 email also said, “School is to officially start Sept. 18th if we have all needed technology available and in your hands.” It told parents to stay tuned for further messaging the following week.
“We ask for your patience and understanding as we go through this monumental transition during unprecedented circumstances,” it read. “We are confident that your child will have a valuable educational experience this year because we have gathered an amazing and talented staff so far.”
Parents next received an email from the board on Sept. 9, noting the school “is currently preparing staffing assignments for at-home learning.” The update said classroom teachers would be contacting families between Sept. 14 to 17 “to provide more information about scheduling and expectations for learning at home.” Students are to take part in an online meeting using Google Meet with their teacher on Sept. 18, with full online learning beginning Sept. 21.
“Your patience and understanding is appreciated,” said the letter.
The Fenelon Falls Secondary School administration team, including principal Don MacIver, vice-principal Christa Bradburn and vice-principal Martin Gage, is responsible for the secondary school.
The TLDSB virtual school is designed to run from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Students are assigned to a teacher and are expected to take part in a 300-minute learning day, which will include a blend of synchronous and independent learning,” Fegan said. “Like in class learning, secondary school students will adopt a block schedule, allowing students to concentrate on one credit at a time.”
There are three options for virtual learning: one in which a student logs in to synchronous learning activities led by a teacher and engages in small group or independent learning throughout the day; one in which a student opts out of synchronous learning but has access to the lessons, teacher and community classroom; and one in which students opt of using technology and instead receive paperwork via parent email or snail mail delivery system, which does not include lessons but instead regular check-ins with an assigned educator.
“Students are expected to be available and in attendance for all synchronous learning activities,” said Fegan. “Teachers will share a regular timetable of synchronous activities with students and families. The expectation for synchronous learning is 180 minutes per day for kindergarten students, 225 minutes per day for Grades 1 to 8, and 225 minutes per day for Grades 9 to 12, taking a full course schedule (up to 60 minutes for each class).”
The Toronto District School Board has also delayed their virtual school start, from a start that would have coincided with the in-person school start on Sept. 15, to Sept. 22, at first citing timetable and staffing finalization, and most recently noting that a major shift in student population – with an additional 6,000 students opting for remote learning rather than in-person learning – happening in the last week.
That same student registration shift has not occurred at TLDSB.
“At the re-registration deadline of Aug. 17, we had 650 secondary students and 1,900 elementary students enrolled in online learning,” said Fegan. “Since then, our numbers are now close to 2,000 elementary students and 700 secondary students. Please note, some of this was due to the survey not reaching all families. In these cases, we had to reach out to them directly via phone.”
Changes have also been made to in-person learning, with a staggered start being introduced so that all students were not returning full-time on the same day; mandatory masks for students in kindergarten to Grade 3, outside of provincial requirements for those in Grade 4 and older to wear masks and a change in the schedule for high school learning to a block schedule, in which students learn one subject at a time.
For more information about the TLDSB virtual schools, visit the board’s Return to School webpage or contact the school at email@example.com. The TDLSB Learning@Home Elementary School website is available here: https://lhe.tldsb.on.ca/ The TLDSB Learning@Home Secondary School website is still being developed.