Toronto’s public and Catholic boards will keep schools closed on Tuesday because of snow-clogged city streets and concerns about busing safety — but say students won’t be provided with any live, online lessons.
Instead, teachers may post voluntary work online, or students can work on existing assignments.
However, in York Region, the public board said its schools would also remain closed but students would be provided with live, or “synchronous” online learning for the day.
The Peel public and Dufferin-Peel Catholic boards also announced their schools would be shuttered Tuesday. Dufferin-Peel said students would “follow their regular daily schedule from bell time to bell time, including lunch and/or recess.”
The Toronto Catholic District School Board said in an email to parents Monday night that given Mayor John Tory’s declaration of a major snowstorm condition, and asking people to stay home so roads can be cleared, there are “safety concerns around access to school … and about limitations on available buses/drivers and navigating unplowed streets” Tuesday.
School-based child-cares may remain open but parents are asked to check with the providers, the board also said.
On Monday, students in the GTA and other parts of southern Ontario got a snow day or learned online, but elsewhere in the province students were back in school, in person, after almost two weeks of virtual classes.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said she was on a call with colleagues around the province on Monday “and we had a good chuckle about it, because all the trustees from the north and from the traditional snowbelt areas were saying ‘now you know what it’s like.’ ”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce, who last week announced that the province’s two million students would be able to get back to class Jan. 17 after a COVID surge forced schools online, said in a statement to the Star on Monday that “while Mother Nature had other plans today, I want to thank all parents, students and staff for their commitment to safety and their patience and vigilance throughout this pandemic.”
He and chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore had said two rapid tests would be available to staff and students in all schools, and that the province had distributed millions of N95 masks for teachers and upgraded masks for kids, along with more HEPA air filters and a focus on targeted vaccination clinics for school staff.
It was unclear what other southern Ontario boards would keep schools shuttered Tuesday.
In District School Board Ontario North East, based in Timmins — where in-person classes resumed Monday — director of education Lesleigh Dye said the first day back went “exceptionally well” and that all schools were able to open.
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“We had 12 inclement weather days before the holidays,” she noted.
On Monday, student absenteeism varied, she added, with one school as low as 13 per cent, and one that hit 33 per cent. However, she added, that may be high “as some families are still deciding if they are going to go with the full virtual option,” which boards are offering to those who don’t feel comfortable sending their kids back.
The board, which had a staffing shortage even before the pandemic, was proactive and for the first time hired supply teachers ahead of time, Dye added.
Staffing is a big concern for all Ontario boards, given the high number of Omicron cases in the community, and given that teachers must stay off if they are sick, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
“We knew that without those staff pre-hired, some of our classes would have to do a virtual day,” Dye said, adding the occasionals were deployed to schools based on enrolment and principals could allocate them as needed.
Liana Holm, president of the Sudbury-based Rainbow local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the provincial COVID screening tool led to a number of teachers staying home either with symptoms or because of exposure, and that the board could not get substitute teachers for some classes.
She said staff are redeployed within a school but said “we are operating in a system that really can’t sustain itself.”
The screening tool “is doing what it needs to be doing,” she added, “but this may not have been the time, with the restrictions that are out there, to put kids back into classrooms. They are going to be pivoting back and forth in a lot of places.”
In southwestern Ontario, in the Windsor area — where locals reported not a flake of snow — attendance at both public and Catholic schools was high.
Stephen Fields of the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board said staff absences “were not out of the ordinary for this time of year. We were able to staff all of our classrooms, which was very good news for us. We got off to a good start on day one, and we’re hoping that trend continues.”
Scott Scantlebury of the Greater Essex County District School Board said student attendance was “pretty good right across the board” and it was “able to fill all of our teaching commitments with either regular staff or occasionals.
“It will be a day-to-day thing” with teacher absences, he also said. “We have assembled a pretty deep supply list” in anticipation of staffing shortages.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
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