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Grade two teacher Vivian Mavraidis looks out into the hallways at Hunter's Glen Junior Public School during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

More public elementary schools in the Scarborough area are losing teachers to virtual learning than elsewhere in Toronto, according to new data being released as the school board moves thousands of students into larger classes and new cohorts a month into the academic year.

The data from the Toronto District School Board, obtained by The Globe and Mail, show that 95 schools in Learning Centre 3, a hub that includes most of Scarborough in the city’s east end, will lose teachers over the next two weeks. Three of those schools will lose more than four teachers each to virtual classrooms. Ryan Bird, a TDSB spokesman, said there are fewer students in this area attending in-person schools so the staffing needs on the virtual side are greater.

All TDSB schools feed into four learning centres, which are hubs where staff can collaborate. Families are learning of the changes to their individual schools this week. The data show that in Learning Centres 1 and 2, which include the northwest part of the city, 76 and 83 schools, respectively, are losing teachers to online learning. Further, 69 schools in Learning Centre 4, which includes downtown and along the waterfront, are losing teachers.

More than 7,800 elementary students last week chose to move from in-person classes to online learning as COVID-19 infections in the city rapidly increase. This is on top of more than 70,000 that registered at the start of the academic year (about 3,000 will switch from virtual school to in-person learning). The board said that in-person schools were “overstaffed” because class sizes, based on registration numbers, were well below its targeted caps.

However, the loss of teachers to virtual schools – about 570 of them across 324 elementary schools – means those children in bricks-and-mortar schools will no longer be with educators they have developed relationships with for almost four weeks.

TDSB trustee Parthi Kandavel, who represents a Scarborough ward, acknowledged that it will be difficult, but the board also has to serve families who have chosen the virtual option. The province has put in some money to hire teachers, but it has not changed its funding formula, which means provincial funding is based on class-size averages.

“It is a challenge,” Mr. Kandavel said. “But to lose an in-school teacher is unfortunate because you’ve got the routines, the familiarity and, most importantly, that teacher-student connection now for some students is being lost.”

Joy Henderson, a child and youth care practitioner who lives in Scarborough, said the changes will be “devastating” for many children.

One of her sons will be moving to a new Grade 8 class at St. Andrews Public School, while Ms. Henderson is still waiting to hear what will happen to her other son’s Grade 5 class. Any disruption will likely make an already difficult transition back to school even harder, she said.

“My youngest is the student who doesn’t want to be at school … It wasn’t easy getting him in his groove, and that it’s going to be pulled up again,” Ms. Henderson said. “Someone needs to figure this out so that students aren’t getting hurt.”

Lisa Parker, chair of the Allenby Parents' Association, an organization for families attending Allenby Junior Public School, said that many parents whose children attend the school have lost their patience. One of the kindergarten classes at the school will be absorbed by the others, pushing the number of students in each to their limits, while the five Grades 4, 5 and 6 French-immersion classes will be reduced to four classes.

“The reason why we sent our kids back to school is because we’re trying to get them back in to some normal routines, make life a little bit normal under the circumstances, as close to normal as we can. The routines and stability are very important to kids and their well-being. They’ve now settled into school. It hasn’t been easy,” Ms. Parker said. “Parents are feeling very frustrated.”

Rob London is one of those parents.

“It’s so unfair to kids,” says Mr. London, whose son is a Grade 4 student at Allenby. “Our children, who have been off school since March, are finally getting in to some kind of normalcy.”

School boards typically reorganize classes early in the school year to balance class sizes, but that process is more pronounced this year after the Ontario government offered families an option between online and in-class learning. Several boards, including the TDSB, have multiple switch dates.

The TDSB’s deadline to request a change was last week and will take effect after Thanksgiving weekend. Families can request to switch again in November and then January, although the TDSB said it would re-examine the capacity to accommodate switches.

At the Halton District School Board, director Stuart Miller said families of elementary school students can switch in late November, as opposed to the TDSB that allowed for a switch in October, because “if you’re doing it every few weeks, the kids don’t have a chance to get to know their teachers.”

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, said the intent of the switch dates is not to cause chaos in the system, but to meet the needs of families who are responding to a variety of situations in their communities, including a second wave of the virus.

“We just want to provide education to kids,” she said.

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