Toronto’s public board will move more than 700 teachers from their classrooms to work online given about 14,000 students have opted for remote learning because of COVID-19.
With just two weeks to go before classes start, Director of Education Carlene Jackson emailed trustees to tell them about 79 per cent of teens — or 57,000 — will return in person, about 21 per cent will learn from home in the “virtual school” and that changes to staffing and timetables are now in the works.
The change means that a high school with 1,000 students would lose 15 of its 50 teachers to online learning — something local union President Leslie Wolfe called “unprecedented.”
“The breadth of system reorganization that will be required to staff the virtual school is unprecedented,” Wolfe said in a memo to members.
“The (Toronto District School Board) has not invoked the ‘reallocation process’ since 2012, and at no time in TDSB history have we ever approached the immensity of the staffing adjustments that are required this year, a result of the remote learning option” for all students, she wrote.
Jackson told trustees that while the board has extra funding “from both the provincial and federal governments to be used for staffing, it is not enough to maintain current staff compliments at each secondary school, while also fully staffing a virtual school with thousands of students and lowering elementary class sizes.”
She acknowledged “that the timelines to do this are quite short” and thanked administrators “for the heavy lifting that is needed over the upcoming days.”
Toronto’s public high schools reopen Sept. 15, and students will study two classes at a time for about two months in the “quadmester” system, with those opting for in-person learning attending school every other morning for almost four hours, then returning home for live online class in the afternoon.
For the virtual high school, staff who have requested a workplace accommodation to work online will be given priority, followed by teachers who prefer to work virtually and then others, based on subject specialty and seniority.
There will also be a ripple effect for teachers working in schools, who may find themselves moved to another location “to ensure appropriate levels of staffing at all of the TDSB bricks and mortar sites as well,” Wolfe said.
Meanwhile, NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles has appealed to the province’s ombudsman for an “urgent and independent” review of the government’s back-to-school plans given parents’ concerns about elementary class sizes in particular and physical distancing requirements.
On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said that Ontario has “the safest, most cautious plan in the entire country, and it’s been vetted by everyone we could possibly think of.”
The province’s four teacher unions have launched a challenge with the labour relations board for improved conditions for their members, in particular smaller classes.
Ford, however, said “if you’re asking me who am I going to listen to — some of the best doctors, health, mind, science in the entire country or some head of some teachers’ union that wants to fight with every single government that God ever created? They’re playing politics. We’re pulling out all the stops.”