While preparing for the reopening of schools as early as next month, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) guarantees that it is doing its best to ensure the health and safety of everyone, from staff to students. During this pandemic, the TDSB is considering the needs of families and staff by trying to find a balance between keeping everyone healthy, guaranteeing the best possible academic experience for students, and supporting mental health and well-being of all school community.
We had the opportunity to speak with Ryan Bird, Manager, Corporate & Social Media Relations for the Toronto District School Board, to get an insight into the plans for the coming school year.
Milénio Stadium: The final months of the 2019/20 academic year was difficult for both teachers and students. What is your assessment of the online classes and the work that was done during the confinement period?
Ryan Bird: I think it was difficult everyone – whether it would be students, parents and staff. This is something that nobody ever done before and nobody really imagined something like that to even happen. We had to plan at the flip of a switch – something that would’ve taken months and months for plan for, we had to do it in a couple of weeks. So, it was definitely difficult for everyone. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from that time, how online and remote learning worked, where we could improve… At the same time, I think our staff, students and parents grew more familiar with the online environment.
MS: As time progressed, and it became evident that the pandemic was going to be with us for a while, everyone started thinking about the future. How has the Toronto District School Board planned for the coming school year?
RB: From months now, our staff have been looking at all the possible options for the new school year. More recently we’ve learned from the Ministry of Education what the plans for September will look like, and then all school boards, including the TDSB, have been trying to finalize their plans. We do have a lot of information out there for parents – whether it would be health and safety measures, what classes will look like, but there’s still some unanswered questions that we’re working with the Ministry of Education to confirm. We’re asking for additional funding for smaller class sizes, we are just awaiting that, but in the meantime, we are pre-registering our students, through pre-registration phone calls or online forms. While it’s a complex process, we need the information as soon as possible, so we can plan for September.
MS: The Toronto District School Board is asking for smaller sizes classes, like you just mentioned, but it’s focusing more on Elementary school, right?
RB: Correct, because Secondary school classes are being divided in two cohorts/groups of students, approximatively 15 students, and they will not be there for full days. So yes, it’s more Elementary school we’re focusing on for smaller class sizes and asking the Ministry for additional funding, so we can have smaller class sizes of 15 to 20 students per class.
MS: Also because the younger ones, from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3, aren’t required to were a mask…
RB: Accordingly with the Ministry’s guidelines, they’re encourage to wear a mask, but not required, yes. I know trustees will be considering a motion next week, that will look at whether or not to require all students and staff to wear a mask, as supposed to just encourage them.
MS: From what is known today, and based on the Ontario government’s guidelines, what can you tell parents in regards to the security conditions, which are currently being implemented by the TDSB?
RB: We know that parents, students and staff are worried about returning to school and work in September, we do recognize that. For our part, what we’re trying to do is give them as much information as possible, so they know what we are doing to keep them safe. Whether that be health and safety measures, what schools will look like, classes configurations, those kinds of things. We’re just trying to give them as much information as possible, so they know what we are doing in September, answering as many questions as we can. We know they still have some questions, but we’re trying to answer those in the days/weeks ahead.
MS: Many parents are considering the possibility of not allowing students to go to school. What can you say to parents who are concerned about sending their children to school during the pandemic?
RB: It goes back to my point on providing as much information as we can, so they know what is going to look like. I think they need to know what we’re doing to keep them safe, that we’re following the Ministry of Education’s guidelines and we’re working with Toronto Public Health. There’re education guidelines we’re trying to implement, but at the same time health, safety and medical guidelines to make sure everyone is safe. It’s a matter of making sure that everyone knows what we’re doing, both on the academic side and the health and safety side. By giving them this information, we’re hoping they’ll feel more comfortable about returning to school.
MS: Is Toronto District School Board concerned about the academic future of Toronto students?
RB: I think it is going to look and feel different for our students, staff and families, but we are committed to making sure they get the best possible education. Again, it’s not going to look the same as previous years, but everyone in Ontario and same cases across the country, are in the same position. We’re doing the very best, under very difficult circumstances, to give students the most normal experience possible and the best education they can get. Whether that be with remote classes – like I said we’ve learned a lot of lessons from the previous school year, so that will be more robust this time around – and obviously with in person learning the education we’ll be focusing on giving the best we can.
MS: The teachers’ union has challenged some of the Ontario government’s measures, stating that many classes will have too many students compared to what would be expected when physical distancing is needed. What can you tell us about this?
RB: We know that parents, students, teachers and other staff are concerned about class sizes, particularly in Elementary school. That’s why we’re asking the Ministry of Education for additional funding. We’re waiting on information about that to know if it’s a possibility, but in the meantime, we’re looking on how we can lower class sizes as much as possible.
MS: What worries you most about the resumption of classes?
RB: It’s just the unpredictability about it. We’re trying, as many School Boards across the province are, to make plans under the current circumstances. Doing the very best we can under those circumstances. Who knows what the fall will look like? Covid-19 numbers are going down across the province, but will we see them going back up during Fall or Winter? We don’t know. We have to plan and be able to be flexible and change as we move through the school year. So it’s the unpredictability at this point that is concerning, but I can tell you that regardless of that we are focused on providing kids their education this Fall – it is definitely going to look different, but we are going to make the best of this very difficult situation and be able to be flexible if needed.