Coronavirus: Ontario students, educators should prepare for possible online learning after holidays

Ontario’s education minister and deputy minister are encouraging students and educators to be prepared and bring home anything they might should there be a need to shift to remote learning due to rising coronavirus cases.

The recommendation by Stephen Lecce and Nancy Naylor is contained in a memo sent to all of Ontario’s school boards on Wednesday.

“Our chief medical officer of health has confirmed that the transmission of COVID-19 in schools has remained low … however, the public health environment in Ontario continues to evolve rapidly,” the document said.

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“The government is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 situation, including recent trends in hospitalizations and intensive care unit patients.

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“As a reminder, we are recommending that boards encourage students and staff to take home any materials that they may require for remote learning before they leave school for the holiday period so that we can continue to be ready for all scenarios.”

The memo doesn’t confirm if some or all boards will be directed to move exclusively to remote learning versus in-class learning or a hybrid version of both forms of learning.

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At Ontario’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), staff have been preparing for the possibility of remote learning in early 2021 even though they said there is no indication as of Wednesday schools will close.

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“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Toronto, so too does the possibility of individual classes, schools or the system moving to remote learning for a period of time. As a result, we want to be as prepared as possible,” a letter issued to parents Wednesday evening said.

“It is important to note that any decision on the closure of a school or the system is made based on the advice of public health officials or the provincial government and is not made by the TDSB.

“Please ensure personal belongings, such as shoes, clothing, and anything else your child may need over the break is brought home, as well as any food that may be left in their locker or cubby.”

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In Lecce and Naylor’s memo, the government highlighted initiatives aimed at curbing transmission of COVID-19 in schools, including mandatory masking policies for a majority of grades and staff, money for enhanced cleaning and personal protective equipment, investments in improving air quality and hiring of staff and using new facilities to help with physical distancing.

However, there were nearly two dozen schools across Ontario shut down due to COVID-19. The Ontario Parent Action Network, a parental advocacy group, sent an open letter to the Ontario government on Wednesday calling for more school supports such as asymptomatic testing and smaller class sizes for virtual learning.

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There have also been calls to extend the upcoming Christmas and holiday break.

— With files from Travis Dhanraj

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