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Public board, union slam online learning plan

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The area’s public school board and teachers’ union have raised concerns about the learning plan outlined by the provincial government for the upcoming school year.

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Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced school boards would be required to offer virtual learning as an option at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Erin Blair, president of the Upper Canada Local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the proposals made by the minister are not necessary and are a distraction from other issues in the education system.

“It has been a great challenge for teachers and parents and students to have the remote learning,” said Blair.

“It’s an emergency measure that should be eliminated as soon as possible.”

Upper Canada District School Board Chairmen John McAllister echoed those sentiments, saying, “it’s a pandemic solution; it should not be a permanent solution.”

McAllister said three motions were passed addressing online learning at a recent board meeting. The first motion was for McAllister to send a letter to Lecce outlining the board’s concerns with the possible extension of online learning.

The second motion passed was to convene a meeting of the wardens of the counties in the school board’s area. McAllister said he had been invited to present in front of two counties, Leeds and Grenville and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, before the end of May.

The final motion calls for the Ontario government to form a royal commission into the future of education before making any significant changes to education models.

Schools in Ontario have been closed since mid-April due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. In a briefing last week, Lecce did not offer any details about when or if students would be returning to the classroom this school year.

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The minister said the virtual learning order comes after consultations with parents, who Lecce said support online learning for the new school year.

Following a story about Catholic educators opposing online learning being prolonged, Caitlin Clark, deputy director of communications for Lecce, offered a statement to The Recorder and Times on Friday.

The statement read in part: “We want children to be learning inside Ontario schools as we know how critical they are to mental health and well-being. Parents deserve a choice next September, as we continue to face uncertainty as a consequence of this global pandemic.”

Both the board and union say one of the biggest concerns lies with the fear the province may attempt to make online learning a permanent model for education.

Blair said the pandemic had shown in-person learning to be superior, with online learning being applicable as a band-aid approach appropriate for the pandemic. He added it has been hinted that the province could make online learning a permanent option, even possibly privatizing it.

In March, The Globe and Mail reported the province was looking at three models for online learning. One of the models would be for high-school students to enroll in an independent learning course offered through TVO or its French counterpart, TFO.

It was reported that through this model, school boards would have to transfer a fee to TVO, the learning centre would operate to generate revenue, and it could enroll out-of-province students.

Blair said while TVO is an excellent resource for teachers, there is a clear difference between offering information and products to educators for classroom use, and delivering education.

If online learning through TVO were to become a permanent option, McAllister said it would call into question whether the province would fund two separate systems.

The trustee added a permanent online option could jeopardize the sustainability of schools in Eastern Ontario due to some classes possibly being offered only online.

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