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More local students opt to leave classroom for online learning

Some return to classrooms. More teachers hired to support both options
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After many students, staff and parents were looking forward to a return to classrooms in September (though having to abide by many COVID-19 restrictions), circumstances for some Sault and area elementary and secondary school students have forced them to once again leave their bricks and mortar, face to face education for instruction through a laptop at home.

A number of factors have led those students to switch from classroom learning to remote learning so far in the current school year.

“In one case, a parent who had previously been laid off was called back to work, which meant that learning from home was no longer viable for the children. In another instance, an elderly family member with a compromised immune system moved into the family home (and) parents didn’t want that family member to potentially be exposed to the virus through children’s contacts at school. There are many reasons why families choose either in-person or remote learning and we try our best to accommodate them,” stated Rose Burton Spohn, Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) director of education, in an email to SooToday.

Numbers received from the Huron-Superior board over the weekend show 493 elementary and 98 secondary students within its system have chosen remote learning so far for the current school year.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 15, 122 Algoma District School Board (ADSB) elementary level students/families requested transition from in-class to remote/virtual learning, another 86 at the secondary level. Those numbers, stated Marcy Bell, ADSB superintendent of education, are in addition to enrolment numbers given at September’s ADSB board meeting.

At that meeting, it was announced there were 863 students involved in 41 remote learning classes at the elementary level (JK to Grade 8), 539 at the secondary level.

At the time, it was reported there were 28 students on a waiting list for the ADSB Elementary Virtual Learning program, another 28 on a waiting list for Secondary Virtual Learning, for a total of just over 1,400 students in the ADSB Virtual Learning School.

“Many families who have requested the move from in-class to remote/virtual have indicated that they are concerned about having a student contract the illness (COVID-19) and/or of them bringing an illness home to an elderly or compromised family member. Others have indicated that anxiety is playing a part in their decision to request a move to remote learning, either on the part of the student or the family members,” Bell wrote in an email.

At the same time, other students who started the current school year at home using the remote approach to education have returned to the classroom.

“Parents and/or students are indicating that students are missing the in-person interaction with teachers and classmates. Some have indicated that they feel more focused and disciplined to complete assignments in the in-class environment,” Bell stated.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 15, 55 ADSB elementary students/families requested a switch from remote/virtual to in-class learning, another 24 at the secondary level.

The H-SCDSB replied it will not know how many of its students will transfer from remote to classroom until after Oct. 30, its first official transition date being Monday, Nov. 16.

A bright note amid all the confusion COVID-19 and its restrictions have caused is the hiring of additional teachers by both boards.

“Since we are offering families the opportunity to learn in person or remotely, we have had to hire approximately 20 additional teachers,” Burton Spohn wrote.

“We anticipate having to reorganize some of our classrooms in early November, but at this point, we do not yet know where or who will be affected. We will base our staffing on a number of factors, including which learning modality parents and/or students select for the second quadmester.”

“To support family preferences for virtual/remote learning, 29.5 elementary and 14 secondary teachers have been added. As enrolment in the in-person and virtual/remote classrooms fluctuate, teachers will be restaffed to support families' preferences and needs,” Bell replied for the ADSB.

Meanwhile, both school boards have sent messages regarding transition deadlines to parents, asking whether they and/or their children wish to switch from classroom to remote learning or vice versa, the H-SCDSB requiring a decision by Oct. 30, the ADSB by Oct. 28.

Huron-Superior parents must notify their local school principal or vice-principal of their desire to switch, while ADSB parents are asked to go through the board’s website.

Those parents happy with their children’s existing approach to education need not reply by those dates.

Because reorganizing classes needs time and effort, the H-SCDSB states those parents who want their children to return to the classroom but who don’t respond to the Oct. 30 deadline will be placed on a waiting list. Those families who don’t move off the waiting list will be given another chance for transition in January or early February. 

The ADSB says families on a waiting list after Oct. 28 may need to engage in asynchronous learning (remote learning offered at various times as opposed to regularly scheduled synchronous remote learning) until the next transition date of Feb. 8, a reminder note to be sent to parents in January.

Bell wrote “(ADSB) students/families opting to switch learning models (from classroom to remote) and who are in a two-week transition period will be enrolled in the Supported Independent Learning model. Students will receive the learning materials, resources and activities by Edsby (Edsby the ADSB’s electronic tool for parents to be kept up to date on their children’s classroom activities and academic progress), email or mail. Teachers will be available at scheduled times throughout the week to connect with students by Edsby, email or telephone.”

“Students/families requesting synchronous (real-time) remote learning will be accommodated if there is room,” Bell stated.

The H-SCDSB’s Burton Spohn told us “although we do have some learners who select an independent learning model, these are chiefly our adult learners who are balancing education with employment demands.”

“Families who indicate that they wish to have their children learn remotely are automatically enrolled in our elementary or secondary remote school, which offers synchronous instruction...we have had some parents indicate that they wish to have their children exempted from a portion of this synchronous delivery (and) the Ministry of Education permits such exemptions.”