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Basketball nets have been removed at the closed Tomken Road Middle School in Mississauga, Ont., on March 31, 2020.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press


In less than a month, millions of kids will return to school. What do parents need to know?

Join André Picard and Nicole MacIntyre for a live Q&A on Aug. 19

Ontario school boards can stagger the first two weeks of children returning to classroom, the government says, as the Toronto District School Board looks at unused spaces for classrooms and targets more resources for schools in areas with high rates of COVID-19.

In a memo to school boards Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said some boards had requested to stagger reopening beyond the first week of school, adding that the “foremost priority is the health and safety of students and staff in the reopening process.”

Trustees at the TDSB were looking at several options on reopening on Tuesday evening. Carlene Jackson, the TDSB’s interim director, also confirmed that the board was given the “green light” on a new secondary school model. It sees students doing a combination of live, synchronous online learning and independent work at home, with about 40 per cent of their time spent in classrooms.

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High-school students learning in-person will be in classrooms for the first half of every second day, break between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., and follow the remainder of their lessons online at home.

Four-day timetable where schedule

repeats on the fifth day

Cohort A

Cohort B

Independent

learning at home

In person

at school

Live virtual learning

DAY 1

DAY 2

TIME

8:45 a.m. to

12:30 p.m.

Course 1

Course 1

12:30 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

Student dismissal (return home / lunch)

Professionally managed activities; alternative professional assignments; work with other school personnel to provide consistent support for students; provide extra help to students; contact parents

1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Course 2

DAY 3

DAY 4

TIME

8:45 a.m. to

12:30 p.m.

Course 2

Course 2

12:30 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

Student dismissal (return home / lunch)

Professionally managed activities; alternative professional assignments; work with other school personnel to provide consistent support for students; provide extra help to students; contact parents

1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Course 1

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD

Four-day timetable where schedule

repeats on the fifth day

Cohort A

Cohort B

Independent

learning at home

In person

at school

Live virtual learning

TIME

DAY 1

DAY 2

8:45 a.m. to

12:30 p.m.

Course 1

Course 1

12:30 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

Student dismissal (return home / lunch)

Professionally managed activities; alternative professional assignments; work with other school personnel to provide consistent support for students; provide extra help to students; contact parents

1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Course 2

TIME

DAY 3

DAY 4

8:45 a.m. to

12:30 p.m.

Course 2

Course 2

12:30 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

Student dismissal (return home / lunch)

Professionally managed activities; alternative professional assignments; work with other school personnel to provide consistent support for students; provide extra help to students; contact parents

1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Course 1

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD

Four-day timetable where schedule repeats on the fifth day

Cohort A

Cohort B

Independent

learning at home

Live virtual learning

In person

at school

TIME

DAY 1

DAY 2

DAY 3

DAY 4

8:45 a.m. to

12:30 p.m.

Course 1

Course 1

Course 2

Course 2

12:30 p.m. to 1:10 p.m.

Student dismissal (return home / lunch)

Professionally managed activities; alternative professional assignments; work with other school personnel to provide consistent support for students; provide extra help to students; contact parents

1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Course 2

Course 1

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD

Jim Spyropoulos, the TDSB’s executive superintendent, said the board still needs to finalize what will happen over the midday period aside from students travelling back home.

“I don’t want to leave people with an idea that teachers are going to be sitting on a lunch break from 12:30 to 2:00, that’s not going to happen,” Mr. Spyropoulos said.

In less than a month, millions of kids will return to school. Here’s what parents need to know

Teachers could use the time to provide additional help to students, contact families whose children have been missing class, co-ordinate with colleagues about lessons and more, he explained.

“We still need to finalize some of those details.”

The TDSB and other large urban boards in Ontario were sent back to the drawing board late last week after the province rejected their plans for in-person elementary and secondary school instruction. The TDSB’s previous high-school schedule had students in classrooms for 25 per cent of the time. Mr. Lecce recently said he wanted high-school students in class for about 50 per cent of the time.

The board, the country’s largest, also planned to shorten elementary school days by 48 minutes, a move that would have kept classes between 15 and 20 students while ensuring teachers maintain their daily 48 minutes of preparation time.

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The government is now asking teachers to be flexible with their prep time, typically used to grade assignments, prepare lessons or conduct research – a request the province says teacher unions refuse to discuss. The unions have said the government is attempting to shift blame amid growing unrest among parents and educators about last-minute changes to reopening plans.

TDSB trustees also revealed data from their parent pre-registration survey, to which 67 per cent of parents responded. At the elementary level, 29 per cent of parents said they would keep their children at home if class sizes remained the same. If they were reduced, 23 per cent of parents would be doing the same.

Some 17 per cent of parents with high-school students in the TDSB system have opted for full-remote learning.

This summer, experts from Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and the Public Health Agency of Canada both emphasized that smaller class sizes were crucial to maintaining physical distancing among children, and helping limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the task has proven difficult across the country, with provinces such as Alberta and Ontario not mandating smaller class sizes.

Children – who have been out of schools since March – and their parents are now trying to make the difficult decision of either pursuing education remotely or returning to school buildings amid warnings of a second wave of the virus.

Ontario’s Ministry of Education had earmarked $309-million for the purchase of masks and other personal protective equipment, cleaning, and the hiring of public-health nurses in school boards across the province. It had also committed $50-million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades in schools, and has designated $30-million for the hiring of additional teachers and assistants.

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Last week, Mr. Lecce also announced school boards could use their reserve funds to cover additional hiring costs, but boards have said that it won’t be nearly enough to lower all class sizes at the elementary level.

Several boards, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Halton District School Board (HDSB), have been scrambling to rework timetables as the government changed direction with just weeks before school starts.

Andréa Grebenc, chair of the Halton District School Board, said that her board, like others, presented their plans to the Ministry of Education in late July and there were no concerns expressed at that time.

“Boards are now back at square one with classes beginning in exactly three weeks,” said Ms. Grebenc. “It is time for the Minister to start truly listening and collaborating with school boards as education partners instead of making intermittent proclamations that just sow chaos.”

The board, she said, had to pause its survey of how many students are returning to the classroom after Mr. Lecce changed direction.

The OCDSB said the changes from Mr. Lecce came three days before its survey of families was set to close.

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“We understand that the upcoming adjustments to the return to school plan may result in a change of decision for some families,” director of education Camille Williams-Taylor wrote in an e-mail to parents last week. “We will establish a process to allow families to make a change. However, timelines are tight and we need to do as much forward planning as possible.”

Earlier this week, the Ottawa board said that about 26.9 per cent of its elementary students opted for remote learning, while 21.5 per cent of secondary school students did the same.

Other boards are seeing similar results. The York Region District School Board said 33 per cent of elementary school families opted for learning online, and 20 per cent of high-school students made that choice. The Durham District School Board said about 20 per cent of its elementary and high-school students chose remote learning.

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