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Ontario’s largest school board commits to shrinking elementary class sizes in areas hit hardest by COVID-19



A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee says the province’s largest school board will prioritize shrinking elementary class sizes in neighbourhoods hit hardest by COVID-19.

On Friday Education Minister Stephen Lecce pointed to a number of new investments and policies for school boards announced by the province — among them, $30 million to hire more staff to decrease elementary class sizes whenever possible.

TDSB trustee Parthi Kandavel said the board will be submitting an application for that funding; and while he’s not sure if the funds will be distributed by population or by need, they’re asking for as much as possible to be given to the Toronto District School Board.

“[Toronto] is disproportionately hit, and certain neighbourhoods … are hit the hardest,” Kandavel, who represents Ward 18, Scarborough Southwest, told CBC News.  

“We need to address that to ensure the safety of our teachers and of course our students and families.

“The bulk of what we’re counting on for the strategy of reducing class sizes in hardest-hit neighbourhoods, will come down to that provincial fund that’s been set up,” Kandavel added.

In Ontario, there are no cap sizes for classes in Grades 4 through 8, only a maximum average of 24.5 across each board. That means it’s not uncommon for children in high enrolment school boards to find themselves in classes of 30 or more students.

Just over a week ago, Toronto Public Health released startling data showing that Black people or other people of colour made up 83 per cent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city outside of long-term care homes. Previously, the city identified neighbourhoods that have been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus.

In the aftermath, city leaders have called for short-term improvements — like more targeted testing and public awareness campaigns — to better help those most at risk.

However it’s unclear how the data is guiding Ontario’s back-to-school plan.

“I’m hopeful [Lecce will] understand that there’s such an intersection between geography and race, and who lives in these neighbourhoods; and this will hopefully inform their decision to fund Toronto appropriately to [address] these hardest-hit neighbourhoods,” Kandavel said.

We are going to place those teachers in those hot spots to reduce class sizes.– Parthi Kandavel -TDSB trustee

Kandavel pointed to Woburn — the eighth most-hit neighbourhood in Toronto — that he said would be given priority in the placement of extra teachers.

He also highlighted other areas “like the Jane and Keele corridor, and in the northwest, there’s Rexdale.” 

Many of these harder-hit neighbourhoods are home to higher proportions of crowded multi-unit residences and essential front-line workers. 

“The plan is — granted we are given the additional funding from the province, which I suspect will happen — we are going to place those teachers in those hot spots to reduce class sizes,” Kandavel said.

Anusha Kumarasan, whose five-year-old son, Joshua, is going into senior kindergarten — lives in the Woburn area.

She agrees that funding and resources should go to hardest-hit neighbourhoods first. But even if classes are downsized, she is worried about sending her kid to school.

“I’m very nervous about it. I’m leaning more towards online learning than actually sending him because he’s so young,” Kumarasan told CBC News.

“What is he going to know about sanitizing and all that? So I’m very nervous about it. Even if the class was, let’s say 15 students, it will still be nerve-wracking because we don’t know where the kids have been.”

“They’re coming into a classroom and playing together, passing things to each other. It comes down to those little things. I really don’t want to send him back,” Kumarasan added.

Anusha Kumarasan, whose five-year-old son is going into Senior Kindergarten, says even if classes are downsized, she is nervous about sending her kid to school. (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

Ryan Bird, a TDSB spokesperson, confirmed the board is looking for solutions.

“We’re aware of this issue and are discussing what may be possible with the Ministry of Education,” he said in an email statement.

Last Friday, Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce defended the province’s plan but did not give a direct answer when asked if they would spend more to lower class sizes.

“We have to be adaptable,” Ford told reporters. “We have to be flexible — we have been flexible.”

Kandavel said the province is expected to reveal next week how it will be allocating the $30 million funding.

“This is going to be one of those big tests for us and for the public — that we’re meeting the needs of those hardest hit.”

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Toronto school board hires 350 teachers in rush to meet demand for online classes




The Toronto District School Board has hired 350 new teachers as it scrambles to meet a rising demand for online learning that has resulted in some students being left without a classroom.

The TDSB had previously pushed back the start of online learning on two separate occasions due to higher than expected demand.

On Tuesday, virtual school finally began for many students, one week after those who opted for in-person instruction began to return to classrooms.

However, an unspecified number of elementary students logged on to the board’s online learning platform to find that they have not yet been assigned a teacher and will be expected to learn independently for the time being.

In an interview with CP24, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said that the board has seen the enrollment for its online learning program balloon from 56,000 students just a few weeks ago to about 78,000 today.

He said that as a result the board has identified a need for 500 additional teachers.

Over the last 24 hours it has hired about 350 teachers off its supply list but more will have to be brought on board in the coming days in order to assign classrooms to the thousands of students that have not yet been assigned one.

“We need these teachers hired as soon as possible. I anticipate we will be able to whittle that number down even further today,” Bird told CP24. “We should have a better idea in a day or so as far as a more concrete timeline. We are aiming and hoping that we can get all our virtual classrooms up for this week but really we will have a better idea once we get those staffing numbers updated later on today and tomorrow.”

All parents that enrolled their child in the TDSB’s online learning program were asked to log into the remote learning platform Brightspace on Tuesday morning as scheduled but those students who have not yet been assigned a teacher were then redirected to some independent learning resources on the board’s website.

Bird said that while the board had hoped to have its virtual classrooms “fully up and running” in time for today, the sheer scale of the undertaking made that impossible.

“We have never done anything like this on this scale and I would argue probably haven’t done it in public education across Ontario or Canada to this level,” he said. “It takes some time and we understand that parents, staff and students are frustrated. We get that. But for the majority of students, they are learning today. Whether it is in person or online, a majority of students are learning today and we are aiming to get everyone else up and running by the end of the week as best as we can.”

The TDSB has said that a total of 60,000 students have been signed up for its online learning program at the elementary level and 18,000 at the secondary level.

A total of 2,200 teachers are required to fill all of the needed virtual classrooms at the elementary level.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Seneca joins collaborative national network supporting student mobility




Toronto, Sept. 22, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Seneca has taken the next steps in its digital adoption strategy by joining Canada’s official credential wallet and national network led by the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC). Called the ARUCC National Network, it provides students with the ability to access and share official, digitized transcripts, credentials, badges and microcredentials — anytime and anywhere.

Pioneered by ARUCC and powered by Digitary’s global digital credentials platform, the Network is unique in scope and moves Canadian higher education to the forefront of innovation by providing a trusted credential engine built for learners. By joining, Seneca will unite with other Canadian colleges and universities that have collaborated to create this national credential wallet and trusted, online document exchange platform.

The Network is the first of its kind in Canada and will provide three million learners nationwide with a secure, permission-based platform for accessing and sharing their official documents and credentials. The initiative supports student mobility as they transition into, between and beyond postsecondary institutions in Canada on their educational journey into the workplace. The Network also protects them, institutions and government from increasing document fraud. 

Other key features of the ARUCC National Network include:

  • 24-7 access for learners
  • bilingual service and support in French and English
  • ability for learners to access, view and share their verified and official transcripts, credentials, badges, microcredentials and documents in a digitized format
  • ability for Canadian postsecondary institutions and higher education partners to work together with the network to exchange official documents — with permission of the learner

“Providing secure, verified digital credentials to our students is incredibly important and hugely valuable in supporting them as they embark on their future employment,” said Sharon Kinasz, Seneca’s Registrar. “We are delighted to join the ARUCC National Network powered by Digitary as we embrace digital adoption and enhance our sustainability practices at Seneca. Our enhancing supports for our students, graduates and alumni demonstrate Seneca’s dedication to supporting the learner’s experience through innovative digitization.”

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Seneca and extend the benefits of trusted digital credentials through a secure, national platform — the very first of its kind for Canada,” said Joanne Duklas, ARUCC’s Executive Lead. “Our ultimate mission for the ARUCC National Network is to deliver a portable credential wallet to the three million postsecondary learners across Canada. Powered by Digitary technology, we are supported by global digital credentials experts who are skilled at implementing scalable, national solutions that make sense for students.”

“Digitary has always been learner-focused in everything that we do, and we strongly relate to ARUCC and Seneca’s mission to enhance the experience and digital capabilities offered to students. In providing effective digital solutions and verified academic credentials, we can support learners’ global mobility and their journey through employment,” said James Murray-Beckman, Digitary’s Chief Operating Officer. “We’re delighted to welcome Seneca to the ARUCC National Network powered by Digitary and will continue to support ARUCC and its partners to extend the digital capabilities to all learners across Canada.” 

About Seneca

Combining career and professional skills training with theoretical knowledge, Seneca provides a polytechnic education to 30,000 full-time and 60,000 part-time students. With campuses in Toronto, York Region and Peterborough and education partners around the world, Seneca offers degrees, graduate certificates, diplomas and certificates in more than 300 full-time, part-time and online programs, now most of them virtually. Seneca’s credentials are renowned for their quality and respected by employers. Co-op and work placements, applied research projects, entrepreneurial opportunities and the latest technology ensure that Seneca graduates are highly skilled and ready to work. Learn more about Seneca.

About the Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC)

ARUCC provides leadership in the post-secondary education field and service to its member institutions nationally and internationally, helping foster the advancement of registrarial practices and learner focused service delivery in Canada. Learn more about ARUCC.

About Digitary

Digitary was launched in Dublin, Ireland in 2005, and has grown to become a leading online platform for certifying, sharing, and verifying academic credentials. Learner-centric since the very start, Digitary enables millions of learners to share their verified academic achievements online, securely, quickly and easily. Digitary is now used by organizations in over 135 countries. Learn more about Digitary.

Caroline Grech

Joanne Duklas
Association of Registrars of the Universities and Colleges of Canada (ARUCC)

Catherine Stanley

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Boards pivot to Plan B as outbreaks close schools




Local school boards say they’re prepared to pivot to remote learning if and when an outbreak of the coronavirus forces them to halt classes and send students home.

An Ottawa elementary school has become the first in Ontario to close due to COVID-19 after two staff members and two students tested positive.

It’s not ideal, but it’s something that we’re prepared for.– Mike Dubeau, West Quebec School Board

Parents of students at Monsignor Paul Baxter Catholic School in Ottawa’s Barrhaven neighbourhood have been told that for the next two weeks their children’s learning will move online.

“The entire class including the teacher will move to distance learning,” Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) spokesperson Sharlene Hunter wrote in a statement to CBC.

Hunter said it may take a couple of days to iron out technical issues, but she said both students and staff already have the basic tools they’ll need to continue learning online.

“All of our staff have received training on the use of the learning management system (Hapara) in order to be prepared for this scenario,” Hunter wrote. “They have been posting resources on the learning management system even when students were attending in person.”


Hunter said students have had instruction on how to use the remote learning system. Students who don’t have access to a laptop will be provided with one. 

The OCSB says students’ marks won’t be affected while they’re learning remotely, and those who require educational assistance will continue to receive it online.

These remote classes are different from the full-time remote learning program some students have opted to take instead of attending school in person.

Outbreaks elsewhere

Monsignor Paul Baxter isn’t the only school in the region that’s had to pivot to Plan B. Last week, a COVID-19 outbreak closed Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., while 45 students at South Hull Elementary School in the Aylmer sector of Gatineau, Que., were sent home to isolate for 14 days after two tested positive. 

Mike Dubeau, director of education with the West Quebec School Board (WQSB), said a plan for online learning was already in place and went into effect as soon as the school was notified about the positive tests.

“If students have to go home for two weeks or if we have to shut down the school, we switch to online learning,” Dubeau said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s something that we’re prepared for.”

Currently 250 students are enrolled in the WQSB’s virtual learning program. Dubeau said given the unpredictability of the current situation, online learning now has a bigger role to play than ever in education.

“I believe it’s an opportunity for lasting change because we’re learning new ways to deliver the curriculum, new ways to assess, new ways to teach,” he said. “So when we come out on the other side of this pandemic, there’s going to be a richness of knowledge on how to teach online and how to evaluate.”

Similarly, teachers at Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) schools have been set up to teach remotely through Google Classrooms or Virtual Learning Environments. 

“These were created prior to the start of the school year and are maintained weekly by educators,” OCDSB spokesperson Joe Koraith wrote in an emailed statement Monday evening. “Key learning, resources, tasks, etc. are posted to support student learning. Students who are away or who may be isolating would have full access to the virtual classroom.”

Koraith said in the event that an entire classroom, cohort or entire school is closed or can no longer meet, students can shift to remote learning “with enhanced synchronous requirements.”

“Knowing that we may be required to move from in person to remote with little notice, we are ready to support students,” he said.

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