‘No guarantee’ students can switch between at-home and in-school learning

Students wishing to switch placed on waiting list, board says class cap sizes play into decisions

By Jenn Watt

Students who want to switch between in-school and at-home learning will have their name added to a waitlist, with the school board evaluating monthly which students on the list can be reassigned.

On Oct. 7, Trillium Lakelands District School Board posted an update to families by director of education Wes Hahn outlining the board’s plans.

“At this point, any parent/guardian wishing for a change from one learning option to another must have their child’s name placed on a waiting list by contacting their child’s home school,” Hahn wrote. “The waiting lists will be reviewed and changes will be made if possible over the course of the school year. Our guiding principles for these decisions include class size regulations and staffing, so not all moves may be possible. It is important to note that there is no guarantee of a change for your child

The post triggered comments on Facebook from parents who said their understanding was that students who wanted to switch learning venues could do so at the end of October.

“When we made our decisions on doing in school learning we were told at the end of October we would have the choice to move them over to online if desired,” one commenter wrote, “now that it’s nearing the middle of October our decision has been taken away from us and now it’s a waiting list and you may not get the choice! That’s wrong, if we deem our child would be better off at home instead of in school we should be able to make that choice!”

In an email sent to families in August, TLDSB said that registration selections would remain in place until October.

“Many families want to know if they can change their mind about their choice for in-school or at-home learning. Once your choice has been made, this will remain the program for your child until late October,” the email sent in August read. “We cannot make changes prior to this because any change means alterations to classroom cohorts and to bussing route schedules. This decision has been made in the best interest of safety of our students and our staff.”

TLDSB communications officer Sinead Fegan said the board has been working with parents whose children are on the waitlist and with a recent staffing reorganization have “worked to address many of the students on the waitlists.”

Fegan said she couldn’t give a figure for how many students are on the waitlist because it is constantly changing, but said names would be reviewed monthly.

“Moving forward, the waitlist will be reviewed at the beginning of each month,” she said. “We will not make changes/switches where a change will make us exceed class cap sizes.”

The board also added teachers for those doing at-home learning using paper materials, rather than online.

A parent had commented on the TLDSB Facebook page that their child had not yet received paper materials. “We are doing learning from home with the educational materials supplied by the board in ‘paper and pen’ format,” the parent wrote. “We still haven’t received anything. Two weeks ago we were told we would have materials by Friday, September 25th.”

An update to the board’s website on Oct. 8 reads that the teachers will be in contact with families the week of Oct. 13 to 16 with full implementation of the program on Oct. 16.

Rotating cancellations due to school bus driver shortage

A province-wide school bus driver shortage is being felt in Haliburton County, with parents being asked to find other ways for their children to get to school when drivers aren’t available.

On Oct. 2, Trillium Lakelands District School Board advised parents and guardians to be aware of the potential that a bus may not be carrying out some routes.

“Due to the current shortage of qualified school bus drivers, any day we could be without a driver for your child’s bus route. It is important to make alternate transportation arrangements to get your child to and from school in the event of a cancellation,” a message posted to the school board’s Facebook page reads.

Superintendent of business Tim Ellis has previously discussed bus driver shortages at board of trustees meetings, pointing out that many bus drivers are part of an older age demographic, one that would be at higher risk if contracting the novel coronavirus. This may be leading some drivers to choose not to work during the pandemic.

Although earlier in the school year, issues with bus routes had mostly been in the Muskoka region, TLDSB communications officer Sinead Fegan confirmed that the issue is throughout the board.

“Yes, Haliburton has been experiencing shortages recently,” she said in an email to the Echo. “The board has been doing daily cancellations. These cancellations are being done on a rotating basis to minimize the time that students are without transportation into our schools. Please note, cancellations are done as a last resort.”

Class restructuring

Some students at Archie Stouffer Elementary School – and other schools within the board – will be changing classrooms and in some cases teachers, as the board makes adjustments based on enrolment at physical schools and in virtual school.

A letter sent home to students at ASES on Oct. 2 reads, in part: “As class numbers are now settling the difficult decision about having to decrease staff at physical schools to support the increased number of students participating in the Learn@Home School has necessitated a reduction of one classroom at Archie Stouffer Elementary School.”

Similar letters went out elsewhere, with news website Kawartha411 quoting a nearly identical phrase from a message sent out by the principal of Dunsford District Elementary School.

Fegan told the Echo that adjustment to staffing was not happening at all schools, only those where they are needed.

“Due to the reorganization, some cohorts will be changing in some classes,” she said.

At ASES, restructuring will take place in the primary classes, with class sizes aligning with Ministry of Education guidelines. Those parents and guardians whose children will be affected will be contacted directly, the letter says. The changes are to take place Oct. 13, following the Thanksgiving weekend.

Fegan said she didn’t know if further reorganization would be needed in the future.

“We are not sure if this will be the last time a reorganization is required. We are working to be responsive to family requests for switching between online learning and in school learning,” she said.