With the TDSB warning kids to pack up cubbies and lockers and get set for the possibility of online learning after the winter break, parents are scrambling to ready themselves for another round of uncertainty about the fate of the school year.
“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Toronto, so too does the possibility of individual classes, schools or the system moving to remote learning for a period of time. As a result, we want to be as prepared as possible,” stated an update circulated by the Toronto District School Board on Wednesday.
“It is important to note that any decision on the closure of a school or the system is made based on the advice of public health officials or the provincial government and is not made by the TDSB.”
Nine months into the pandemic, this will be the second time parents and students have had to contend with the possibility of an extended break to accommodate for the spread of COVID-19.
Mary Lynn Trotter, who has a daughter with autism in Grade 12 at a Toronto high school, told the Star she is worried about her child’s grades if she has to stay home for an extended period.
“Grade 12 is a tough year to find out things aren’t going well,” Trotter said. “On top of that, because she has special needs, how are we going to address that if she’s not going to school?”
Trotter said her daughter did well in face-to-face learning but was struggling in one of her classes.
“To pull her out now … this is not going to go well for her, to lose the physical support of actually being in the room with the teacher,” she said.
The Ministry of Education, which is in charge of decisions on school closures, warned boards in a memo Wednesday that students and staff should take home any materials that would be needed to learn remotely. No decision has been made at this point.
For Kaila Jonsen, whose daughter is in junior kindergarten with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, keeping her four-year-old home from classes is an easy choice.
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As a personal support worker, Jonsen worries that exposure to asymptomatic COVID-19 as a result of her daughter being in school could put her patients at risk. “I totally support the switch to remote learning,” she said. “Maybe we should have done it sooner when the numbers started climbing.”
Despite her support for a possible shutter, Jonsen noted there is a domino effect to closing schools: “If remote learning does happen, I will be taking that time off to spend with my daughter — that’s one less PSW in the community.”
Jonsen added her daughter would also prefer to be in school with her friends. “She doesn’t want to be at home, even if it’s with mom.”
The TDSB alert noted that while the board has not received any indication schools will close, they are preparing for the possibility and “want to make sure we are prepared to implement any decision smoothly and efficiently and continue to support our students’ learning and well-being.”
Students enrolled with TDSB schools were asked to bring their personal belongings home with them ahead of the winter break.
Joy Henderson has already had a taste of days reminiscent of early on in the pandemic when she was balancing home learning with maintaining her own work schedule. Her children were home for a week recently following a COVID-19 exposure.
One of her sons thrives from the social environment in-person school offers, Henderson said. “He suffered during the first shut down (and) his grades suffered. I’m concerned about him.”
She said that she understands the school and board are trying their best to keep parents apprised of what’s to come, but as of right now, she doesn’t know more about what to expect of the new year beyond bringing home items from classrooms and ensuring her children are set up with Google Classroom.
She is thinking ahead to how she will juggle her own workload and assisting her sons with theirs. “I’m lucky enough to work from home. But I am certainly concerned with how much work I’m going to be getting done.”
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon
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