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Less wealthy, non-white students over-represented in TDSB’s COVID-19 virtual classrooms

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Lower-income and non-white families are opting for the Toronto District School Board’s online-only classes during the COVID-19 pandemic at a greater rate than white and wealthier families, according to fresh data presented to trustees.

Students of South Asian and East Asian background, those with lower socio-economic status, and those whose parents don’t have a university education make up a disproportionate number of the 70,000 students enrolled in the TDSB’s virtual school system this fall, the data shows. 

Education advocates say the demographic breakdown underlines the importance of ensuring that students enrolled in online classes are not left to flounder.

“There’s a huge need for extra support for students who are trying to deal with virtual learning,” said Anna Katyn Chmielewski, an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 

She says some of the most disadvantaged students in Toronto are enrolled in the online-only model, while teachers are facing challenges in quickly adapting their methods to the new virtual classrooms.  

TDSB students from high-income households were more than twice as likely to choose in-person instruction over virtual learning, according to this chart presented to trustees during a school board meeting on Thursday. (TDSB)

“It’s hard for teachers to keep their eye on students who are struggling and might get left behind, even more so when those students are virtual,”  Chmielewski said in an interview with CBC News.

“This is the most urgent situation that we have in education right now and we have to make sure that we do something about it,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of the group People for Education.

“The kids who are more likely to be experiencing challenges are also more likely to be in online learning,” said Kidder in an interview.

“It’s vital that there are more supports in place for these kids so that they’re not just left on their own. Otherwise, some kids are really going to lose and this is going to have an impact on their lives.”

Kidder says it is crucial that the province ensures enough funding is provided to hire specialized staff who can help disadvantaged students cope with the challenges of learning online. 

“The kids who were already struggling are much more likely to struggle now when they’re being asked to work completely independently,” Kidder said. 

“It’s not sustainable or equitable to just assume we can rely on families to [support them academically]. These are families that are also struggling to put food on the table along with everything else.” 

Anna Katyn Chmielewski, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, says there’s a ‘huge need for extra support for students who are trying to deal with virtual learning.’ (Lisa Sakulensky Photography)

According to the TDSB statistics, students from families with high socio-economic status were more than twice as likely to opt for in-person instruction than virtual learning. 

Proportionally more South Asian and East Asian students chose to attend school virtually, while more white students chose to attend school in person.

The enrolment statistics seem to suggest that Toronto’s poorer families of colour feel their kids face greater risk of catching the novel coronavirus at school than wealthier, white families.

That falls in line with data analysis by Chmielewski and her colleague Omar Khan, who found that in Toronto neighbourhoods with an above-average rate of COVID-19 infections, parents were generally more likely to opt for the learning-from-home model.

“I think a lot of parents were deciding that school was potentially more risky for their kids, and for their kids bringing home the virus,” said Khan, a refugee advocate and computer scientist. 

He says parents likely are also worried about the potential risks to their own health and to their ability to work. 

The proportion of Black students enrolled in the TDSB’s virtual learning system is the same as the proportion who’ve chosen in-person instruction. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

The findings raise questions about whether the province and school boards have done enough to reduce the risk of infections at schools in neighbourhoods most hard-hit by COVID-19. 

“You have a ton of kids who are disadvantaged staying home,” said Khan. “How do you get them back in the classroom where we know they learn best? What can we do in those schools to make parents feel safe to send their kids back?”

Other highlights from the TDSB data presented to trustees:

  • 65 per cent of students who chose in-class instruction have a parent with a university education, compared with 49 per cent of students who chose virtual learning.
  • 37 per cent of students who chose in-class instruction come from families with high socio-economic status, compared with 15 per cent of students who chose virtual learning.
  • White students make up 36 per cent of in-person instruction enrolment, compared with 14 per cent of virtual learning enrolment.  

The statistics do not show any significant difference in the proportion of Black students choosing virtual learning over in-person instruction.

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CBU to honour Donald Marshall Jr. with new research centre

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A new research institute planned for Cape Breton University will honour the legacy of Donald Marshall Jr., who fought for the Indigenous right to fish for a moderate livelihood.

The Mi’kmaw man’s name has been invoked in recent weeks by Indigenous fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia who have launched self-regulated lobster fisheries. 

“I think it’s very timely in terms of the need for knowledge sharing, for advocacy and for action,” said Janice Tulk, a senior researcher in the university’s development department. 

The idea for the institute has been in the works for a couple of years, sparked by one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which emphasized the need for education about Indigenous law and Indigenous rights.

Donald Marshall Jr. addresses a crowd in Sydney, N.S., after leading a peaceful protest over Indigenous fishing rights, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2000. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

“We started thinking about what could we do at Cape Breton University that would respond to that call,” said Tulk, whose areas of expertise include Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous economic reconciliation.

Tulk said the university has partnered with Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaw communities over the past 40 years to provide higher education in a variety of fields, with the creation of Mi’kmaw studies programs, Mi’kmaw science programs and more recently, Indigenous business and mentorship programs. The university saw the research institute as a next opportunity, said Tulk.

‘I think it’s amazing’

Cape Breton University will work with members of the Marshall family over the coming months to solidify the vision for the institute.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Crystal Bernard, Donald Marshall Jr.’s daughter.

“We’re so humbled and honoured that they would do this for him, in his name. And I know he would be very proud, as well.”

The idea was made public Monday as the university unveiled plans for a proposed, $80-million Centre for Discovery and Innovation. The project has yet to receive funding, but should it go ahead, it will house the Marshall Institute.

“We need a space where community collaboration can occur,” said Tulk, noting the institute will proceed with or without the new building.

Janice Tulk’s expertise includes Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous tourism development and economic reconciliation. (cbu.ca)

That collaboration will involve university researchers, faculty members and students, as well as community members and organizations such as the Bras d’Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative and the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, as well as various levels of government.

“I think we’re going to have some really valuable conversations that will advance our understanding of environmental justice and Indigenous approaches to climate change, and hopefully start to make some progress on those things through those dialogues, through advocacy, through policy change,” said Tulk.

Asked what role the institute might play in situations such as the current unrest over the Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia, Tulk said it would serve to help educate people about treaties and Indigenous rights.

“I would imagine that there would be advocacy as well,” said Tulk. “Certainly the institute could play a role in bringing stakeholders together to have honest conversations and collaboratively come up with solutions.”

Bernard said she believes her father would be disappointed by the ongoing situation in southwest Nova Scotia.

“I think it would be very upsetting to him that we’re having to go through this again,” she said.

“On the other hand, I think he’d be on the front lines, fighting with our people, trying to get people to understand that the treaty rights are not up for debate.”

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Calgary Catholic school increases safety precautions after district’s ‘explosion’ of COVID-19 cases

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Just last week, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Calgary Catholic School District was in the low twenties. But over the weekend, there was an “explosion of cases,” which has led some schools to take drastic steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas says there are now 64 students and six teachers within the district who have active cases of COVID-19.

“Over the weekend, we saw an explosion of cases.… This is like a three times increase in the last five days. I believe this is what we’re seeing now as a result of the gatherings that happened over the Thanksgiving long weekend,” he said. “Within Calgary Catholic, we have 118 schools, and 35 of our schools right now are dealing with active cases of COVID-19.”

Szumlas said dealing with COVID-19 in schools is an always evolving situation.

“After a 14-day period, some of these schools come off the list where others go on the list. Since the beginning of the school year, it has been a roller-coaster of ups and downs,” he said.  “Right now, we are at a low point and we’re asking all of our parents and our students to please be vigilant and to continue to practise our health measures as we go forward.”

Szumlas said there were roughly 1,000 students in isolation last week, but since then that number has more than doubled, and there are now about 2,400 students and staff who are in self-isolation.  

“Now, that number may seem fairly large, but to put it in perspective, our school district has just over 56,000 students. So that’s roughly 3.5 to four per cent of our total population,” he said.

“Of course, it worries me, but I have a lot of faith that working together with our communities, that this is a little blip right now and we can, if we work together, we can change that curve and bring it down, if we’re all working together and continuing to practise our health measures.”

The recent surge in cases at Calgary Catholic has lead some schools like St. Francis High School to take a more severe approach to curbing cases within the school population. 

In a letter home to St. Francis parents on Monday, the principal announced that five families had received confirmation of a student testing positive for COVID-19, and thus 300 students and 12 staff were in isolation.

As a result of the rise in cases, St. Francis will end its fall athletic program.

“This is necessary to reduce staff and students potentially needing to self-isolate because of a positive COVID-19 case. The start of our winter athletic season will also be postponed until we see a drop in positive cases at Saint Francis,” wrote principal Mark Berger.

The school has also chosen to make final exams “write to improve” only (meaning a lower grade can’t bring down the student’s overall mark).

Szumlas said he supports these moves. 

“I do support what this principal and the school is doing. This is innovative, collaborative. They’re informing their parents. We stand behind this and it is part of the assessment practices,” he said. 

Berger’s letter also appealed to parents to not let teens gather on weekends.

“Some of the positive cases reported were associated with weekend student gatherings. We ask families to consider the potential negative impacts of group gatherings on our school community,” said Berger.

“We are asking parents to discuss with their children the importance of social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and the sharing of food and beverages.”

The Calgary Board of Education, since the beginning of the school year, has had 140 positive cases and 80-plus schools affected by them. 

In October, the CBE said 3,300 students and 325 staff members had been impacted by mandatory isolations. 

Of those attending CBE’s in-person learning, five per cent of students and 3.5 per cent of staff have been affected by required quaranties since September.

“To date, we have had six cases of suspected in-school transmission,” said CBE superintendent of school improvement, Joanne Pittman.

“What I would also say, though, is that even with that suspected in-school transmission, individuals who may have then tested positive have already been in quarantine, and as a result, additional actions were not required because of the safety precautions already put into place. “

CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis said parents should be encouraged by these numbers. 

“The fact that we have only 0.1 per cent of in-person students and .06 per cent of staff that have been identified with a positive case, I would think that would be very encouraging for families,” she said. 

“The strength of it is, No. 1, that we have strong compliance due to the protocols we put in place [and], No. 2, that we have been thorough in our response. We think we can be proud of the work that we’re doing in our schools to try and keep our communities healthy.”

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Corrections watchdog urges moratorium on doctor-assisted deaths in Canadian prisons – Kamloops This Week

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