On behalf of the Toronto District School Board, I am writing you to state the Board’s objection to your government’s draft proposal for remote learning. From what we understand, this proposal would make remote learning a full-time, permanent option for all grades in our education system by September 2021, including the TDSB. Although the full proposal was shared with educational organizations on an embargoed basis, many of the details have been published in a variety of media outlets, such as the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. The draft proposal is also the topic of considerable discussion and concern among the Board’s parents/guardians, students, staff and other community partners.
Overall, we are deeply concerned about how this dramatic change will affect student achievement and well-being levels, especially at a time when our communities are struggling to cope with the negative impacts of COVID-19, including mental health, financial stress, isolation, work-life balance and more.
While I understand that virtual learning can be another delivery mode for our educators and that there are some students who have had positive experiences with virtual learning this year, the switch to emergency remote learning for Ontario was made under a global pandemic. It’s important that we take the time to better understand remote learning, including how we can improve quality and access issues that many have faced this year and, most importantly, how this mode of learning can best support student learning and staff teaching. In short, now is not the time to make such a dramatic change to our education system.
In a recent survey (February 2021), 84% of students at the Toronto District School Board indicated that they learn better in-person compared to virtual learning. In addition, 40% of students expressed feeling lonely during remote learning, 50% expressed feeling stressed and that social and well-being levels dropped compared to last Spring. Students also expressed the following concerns about learning remotely:
- I don’t feel motivated – 66%
- I get distracted with TV and social media – 53%
- I have to help with household responsibilities – 42%
- I find it hard to get used to school again – 35%
- I get confused about assignments – 32%
As you can see, this information points to the fact that students benefit from an in-person learning experience as opposed to remote learning. It’s critical that students are provided with experiences that help them develop socially, emotionally and physically. The pandemic has challenged these experiences by isolating students from their friends, family and school communities, and it’s important that we work together, now more than ever, to best support students and their growth as productive members of society.
Specifically, I would like to highlight the following concerns with the draft proposal for remote learning:
- there is no evidence that links remote learning to improved overall outcomes for students;
- the timeline to implement this change for September 2021 is rushed and will negatively impact student learning and well-being;
- students could end up having fewer teacher-led course options, and may need to take more Independent Learning Courses with limited teacher support;
- disproportionate impacts on low income and racialized communities;
- the potential closure of small schools that are often the heart of a community;
- the potential to divert funding away from our local school board;
- unnecessary duplication of administration and related expenses; and
- significantly decreased local input over online learning.
In closing, I want to re-iterate that now is not the time to proceed with your proposal for remote learning. A far more in-depth study on the negative impacts of remote learning on students and the quality of education is needed before any decision is considered. I hope that you will consider the information that has been presented and put a stop to your remote learning plans that are currently in motion.
As always, I am available at your earliest convenience to continue this conversation.
Chair, Toronto District School Board
cc: Toronto MPPs, OPSBA and Ontario Student Trustees’ Association