Emery schools and leaders continue to be guided by public health advice

By Matthew Strader

The second wave was all the talk during a summer dominated by news and updates on the coronavirus pandemic and how it would affect Ontario lives. Now, the second wave appears to be here, as Toronto and the GTA experiences an increase in infection rates while parents and families prepare for the back to school season.

And while school boards and individual schools continue to adapt practices to safely accommodate the return of students, those in higher-level positions surrounding local education assure parents numbers are being monitored closely, and the best advice of the public health and epidemiology experts will be followed.

“We are in constant communication with Toronto Public Health, with daily updates and active communication happening multiple times a week,” said Toronto District School Board Trustee Christopher Mammoliti. “We have trustee colleagues who sit on the Toronto Public Health Board, and the messaging they’ve given us is that we will do what they feel is safest for our students and our families.”

Mammoliti said the initial enrollment numbers his board was seeing showed that among elementary schools, approximately 43 percent of students had registered for in-school classes. In comparison, 33 percent opted for virtual learning, and about 20 percent had been undecided.

But the numbers are changing daily, he explained.

“The numbers become dated very quickly,” he said. “In the past two weeks, we’ve seen a spike in infections and in the last few weeks about 20,000 (throughout the GTA) went from in-class to online, so that’s going to effect the numbers quite a bit.”

He said the board would continue to ensure best practices are followed within the schools and provide parents ample opportunity to make a change if they desire.

Enrolment numbers for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) are changing all the time as well, trustee Ida Li Preti said, with enrolment numbers near the end of September showing approximately 32 per cent of Emery’s catholic students opting for virtual learning over in-class.

“The TCDSB is working in partnership with families and schools,” Li Preti said. “We have continued to allow the transition for parents to move between in-person and virtual school.”

With Humber River Black Creek being considered a hot spot for the virus, Li Preti moved a motion at the board to see it use reserve funds to lower classroom sizes in hot spots and said they’ve now seen them significantly reduced from JK all the way to Grade 12.

She said the TCDSB also continues to rely on Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Health for guidelines for the safety of all students, and has a full contingency plan in place for all potential scenarios should they need to move quickly to more online learning or some other form of adaptive model.

On adapting, she said her board is also embracing ideas like outdoor learning and will soon see a tent go up at St. Simon Catholic School as part of a pilot project.

MPP Tom Rakocevic said he is feeling the anxiety from parents in his community and could assure them that his party will keep up the pressure to see class sizes and other school gatherings continue to be reduced.

“The return to school has been undeniably tough this year, with kids, parents, teachers and education staff dealing with anxiety and uncertainty about COVID-19 and new safety protocols,” Rakocevic said. “Health experts have been clear that smaller, safer classes that allow for physical distancing are critical to keeping students and staff safe. The NDP will keep pushing for class sizes to be capped at 15 students, school bus numbers to be reduced to 50 per cent capacity and thousands of additional teachers to be hired to ensure that children and staff stay as healthy and safe as possible.”