BROCKVILLE – New changes to how remote elementary students will be taught in the Upper Canada District School Board were put in place on September 21st. The board has been struggling to begin the school year for remote learning students at the elementary level for the past two weeks.
Under the return to school plan by the UCDSB, three different forms of remote learning are offered: synchronous or real-time two-way learning; asynchronous digital, or non-real-time online learning; and asynchronous non-digital, or booklet-based correspondence-type learning.
While the board had rolled out its synchronous learning program on September 11th, asynchronous students were delayed as the board faced issues with finding enough teachers for elementary students who chose the remote learning options. Secondary students started largely as scheduled as the UCDSB has offered asynchronous learning at that level for many years.
This new plan rolled out Monday morning has all students assigned to class lists in their home school, regardless of what learning option a student has chosen. Elementary teachers will be responsible for assigning and grading work for all four learning methods.
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Upper Canada Local president Erin Blair has called out the UCDSB plan calling it more disruptive than the board’s attempt to set up a separate remote learning virtual school.
“This plan is a disservice to students and teachers,” Blair told The Leader. “[This plan] is going to amplify the issues in the classroom even further.”
He explained that having four different streams of students in one overall classroom, all learning at different rates and needing support from a teacher, is unsustainable.
“Just take the technological issues alone,” Blair said. “Many of these connection issues with synchronous and asynchronous students haven’t been resolved.”
He said that many of the teachers in the Upper Canada Local are already stressed from the school restart and the delays.
“It’s profound the issues this is causing,” Blair said.
The board justified the new elementary remote learning model stating in documents for the upcoming September 23rd trustee meeting that this model will allow for students to switch between learning models easily.
What is unknown is how these changes will affect physical classrooms already in operation. Grade 1-3 classes in schools have a cap of 20 students, while Grade 4-8 classes have a funding cap of 24.5 students. In practice, the Grade 4-8 classes are larger.
Blair said that for Grade 1-3 classes, the board cannot breach the cap size of 20.
UCDSB spokesperson April Scott-Clarke confirmed to The Leader that remote learners assigned to physical classes count towards the classroom capacity.
“Yes, students in the class are counted towards class numbers,” she said.
Scott-Clarke explained that class changes that occurred in schools leading up to the start of the year was not related to collapsing classrooms due to the high number of virtual students.
“We did not need to collapse classes with the set up of our remote learning models,” she said. ” Any classes that may have been collapsed were a result of other factors.”
Those factors include a smaller cohort of students at a specific grade, and teacher availability.
While Grade 1-3 classes have a capacity of 20 students, older elementary grades have a larger capacity which allows for some flexibility in the number of students in a class. Scott-Clarke said that there is Virtual School Staff and other support available for teachers to help with the transition to the new learning model.
Several school boards in Ontario have been struggling with adapting remote learning options for those who want to learn from home. Canada’s largest public school board, Toronto District School Board, has over 60,000 elementary remote students, many of whom are still without an assigned teacher. The UCDSB had more than 2,000 elementary students enroll in its remote learning system.
Editor’s Note – This article was updated from the original print version to include comments received from the UCDSB.