School boards in Ontario proactively prepare in case of switch to remote learning

By Noushin Ziafati

Several school boards in Ontario are asking students to take home their personal belongings and electronic devices as they prepare for the possibility of a switch to remote learning in the new year.

The Toronto District School Board told families Wednesday it hasn’t received any indication from the Ministry of Education that schools will close, but it wants to make sure it can make a transition “smoothly and efficiently.”

“As we prepare for the winter break, we are of course looking ahead to the new year and what learning may look like as we return to school in January,” the TDSB said.

“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Toronto, so too does the possibility of individual classes or schools moving to remote learning for a period of time.”

The Waterloo Region District School Board issued a similar memo, saying its staff have prepared schools to “ensure a smooth transition, if required.”

In its winter break message, the York Region District School Board said it’s “working on the plan that schools will reopen in January,” but is “prepared to move to virtual learning if that announcement is made.”

The Peel Region District School Board said it anticipates and is “hopeful that learning will resume in person and online when classes resume in January,” but is also taking precautionary steps in case of a switch to online learning.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work together to keep our students, staff and community safe,” the school board told families.

In a social media post, the Greater Essex County District School Board said between now and Dec. 17, “everyone is being asked to take home personal items and any resources needed in case we are instructed to shift to online learning for a period of time after the Christmas Break. This action has not been confirmed.”

The other school boards are also asking families to remind their children to take home their personal belongings and any devices they might need to pivot to remote learning.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic School Board said the school board is “not directing our students to take everything home at this point” and will continue to provide updates as further information becomes available.

“Should the government or Ottawa Public Health choose to close schools in the new year, we will transition to online learning. But at this point, neither organization has indicated that schools will be closed in the new year,” OCSB communications manager Sharlene Hunter said in an email.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the provincial government has made investments to make schools safer “because we know how critical in-person learning is to the mental and physical health of Ontario students.”

“Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has been clear: schools have been made safer for in-person learning through enhanced ventilation, testing, and high-quality masks,” Caitlin Clark said in a written statement.

“While four out of five schools have no active cases amid the emergence of Omicron, we are taking nothing for granted,”

While noting the provincial government has “enhanced ventilation and cleaning in every school” and “proactively sent 11 million rapid antigen tests home” with schoolchildren for the winter break, Clark said the ministry will continue to follow the advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health “to support safe in-class learning.”

On Tuesday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said he considers schools safe and hopes to keep schools open “as long as we can,” with protocols being reviewed to make schools safer.

Ontario reported 1,808 cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths from the virus on Wednesday. Provincial data shows that of the new cases, 384 are school-related.

As of Wednesday, 1,094 schools had at least one reported COVID-19 case and 47 schools were closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks or operational considerations.