School Boards Adapt to Growing Number of Online Learners with Omicron
As students in northern regions of Ontario begin the second half of their school year, more have decided to make the switch to remote learning.
For Rainbow District School Board schools, parents and students had until January 20 to decide whether they would choose in-person or remote learning. The English public board covers schools in Sudbury, Espanola and Manitoulin.
Their number online has almost doubled since September.
“I think given the fact that we had a new [COVID-19] variant, that there are more cases; there were paradigm shifts in the way things were handled provincially, in terms of case and contact management; it left a lot of people adjusting to the paradigm,” said Bruce Bourget, Director of Education.
“[Parents] made certain decisions based on what they thought was best for their child.”
Bourget said 670 elementary students (7.3% of all students) in the Rainbow District School Board are currently learning remotely, up from 372 (4.1%) in September.
In secondary school, 325 students (7.7%) are learning online compared to 157 (3.4%) in September.
Bourget said remote learning for the Rainbow District School Board means students are with a dedicated remote learning teacher all school day. There are no hybrid or mixed classes.
To accommodate the additional students online, Bourget said, 12 teachers were moved from in-person instruction to online classrooms.
“We are very grateful for their flexibility and understanding in these difficult times,” he said.
Bourget said he hopes for some sort of normality for the rest of the school years and is grateful for the hard work and resilience of students and staff to overcome challenges due to the pandemic.
“It really is a time when we all have to come together and have a lot of patience and work hard to overcome some of these challenges, but there are definitely better days ahead.”
English Public Schools in Algoma
The Algoma District School Board covers English public elementary and secondary schools in Sault Ste Marie, Wawa, Elliot Lake, Blind River and Chapleau.
It operates on a hybrid model, offering both in-person and online learning for the same class, with the same teacher.
“We have a certain flexibility and fluidity in this type of learning,” said Marcy Bell, superintendent of education.
High school students were to give their choice of learning mode last Monday at the start of the new semester.
Bell said parents of elementary students have until March Break to decide how their child will access their classroom for the rest of the school year.
“I think the postponement was a good move for us, so parents had that flexibility,” she said, “as we were working through January with the Omicron variant and the transmissibility.”
Bell said about six per cent of Algoma council’s elementary student population is learning online, a slight increase from September. About four percent of the board’s high school students are learning remotely, up from two percent last fall.
“There has been an increase, however, it is not significant and we see that these families indicate that they will return in person [learning]even before the March break.”
Bell said the percentage of high school students who decided to learn remotely fell slightly to 4%, compared to September figures.
Because students learning remotely are tied to their home classrooms, Bell said, the increase in online numbers doesn’t affect staffing levels due to the board’s hybrid model.
In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l’Ontario said they currently have 72 students learning remotely, up from 45 in September.
Lesleigh Dye, director of education for the District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1), said in a statement that the board has informed families of a unique opportunity to transition from in-person to remote learning. . But families had to apply for the change before January 17.
“Families can choose to return to in-person learning at any time for the remainder of the school year,” the statement read. “This flexibility during an uncertain time has been appreciated by the families.”
DSB1 could not provide specific data on the number of students currently learning remotely.
All school boards are awaiting guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Education on whether online or distance learning will be an option for September.