Ontario’s public schools will remain closed for all of April in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Premier Doug Ford is warning that he is prepared to extend the closures “even further” if need be.
Schools were originally closed for three weeks and expected to return on April 6 but Ford told reporters last week that would not be possible and promised further details would be forthcoming.
Those details came on Tuesday afternoon when the premier announced the closures of schools until at least May 4 and the return of teacher-directed instruction, albeit electronically for now. Ford also announced the extension of a order requiring the closure of private schools and childcare centres for another 14 days.
“The situation continues to change day by day, hour by hour and in order to continue to protect our children I am prepared to extend these closures even further if we have to,” Ford said. “We are working closely with the school boards to find ways to help students complete the school year so that they can earn credits and graduate.”
Students will receive up to 10 hours of work per week
Under the plan announced by the province on Tuesday, students in Kindergarten through Grade 6 will receive five hours of work per week while students in Grades 7 and 8 will receive 10 hours of work per week and secondary school students will get three hours of work per week for each course they are enrolled in.
The province says that it will leverage technology to support teacher-led learning where possible but will take an open-minded approach towards supporting some students, who might not have access to the internet.
Laptops and other devices could also be provided to some students “as needed,” according to Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
“We are going to make sure that we optimize every human resource that exists within our department. If it means asking a bus to literally drive materials to a students’ home that does not have access to broadband or just cannot get it in a remote part of the province we will do that,” Lecce said at Queen’s Park. “We are open to every idea and every solution utilizing every person within the ministry to support our parents.”
Lecce said that he is hopeful that the resumption of teacher-led instruction will provide students with a “sense of stability and hope” during a difficult time.
Looking ahead, he said that the province is committed to restoring in-classroom instruction but “only if it is safe” and is supported by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
“If we can salvage some of the year for in-school instruction then we will but our aim is to be flexible to respond to the fluid reality of COVID-19,” he said, noting that end of the year report cards will still be issued regardless of whether schools remain closed.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce is shown at Queen's Park on Tuesday.
GTA boards say teacher-led learning will resume April 6
Ford’s announcement comes in the wake of the Peel District School Board sending a letter to parents, informing them that it plans to “re-start teacher-directed instruction” on April 6.
The Toronto District School Board has also told CP24 that it too plans to resume teacher-directed instruction on April 6.
“We are kind of calling this distance learning or virtual learning. E-learning is where an entire course is taught online from start to finish and our intent here is not to replicate the school day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. I need to be really clear about that because that would be quite challenging,” the TDSB’s Director of Education John Malloy told CP24 on Tuesday morning.
Malloy said that the TDSB is currently in the process of “getting technology to students,” who might not have access to it at home.
As part of that work, he said that the board has reached out to all parents electronically and over the phone to assess their needs and has now heard back from all but a “very small percentage.”
He said that efforts are also underway to support teachers “in this new space,” many of whom may not have prior experience with electronic learning.
“We know that school makes a difference in kids’ lives and to their wellbeing and we also know that the connection between educators and students is important and that is why working with our ministry we are trying to get there as fast as we can,” he said.
The province had previously rolled out a “learn at home” online portal for students, which included some course material for secondary school students as well as educational resources from TVO.
The reintroduction of teacher-lead instruction, albeit electronically, would represent another phase in the province’s efforts to restore some level of normalcy for public students.
In a letter to parents, the Peel District School Board’s Director of Education Peter Joshua said that the board has been “busy developing new ways to deliver curriculum” during the closure of its schools and plans to release information about its online learning plan this week.. He said that he anticipates that there will be “some turbulence upon take-off” but noted that he is committed to “reaching and supporting every learner.”
“We are working to ensure that our use of online learning environments will not widen the divide between privileged and underserved students, and that alternate learning strategies will be available,” the letter states. “In addition, we’re working to ensure equity of access to technology. Your child/teen’s teacher will reach out to you in the next day or so—by email or phone—to determine your family’s technology needs. We appreciate your cooperation in providing this information to us.”
In the letter to parents, Joshua said that the board’s plan will include ways to ensure equity of access to devices and Wi-Fi, mental health and community supports and supports for students with special education needs and English Language Learners.
“Thank you for your ongoing patience as we work to create a comprehensive and equitable plan to ensure all learners’ needs are met,” he said.