Parents frustrated, children disappointed as TDSB delays start of virtual school for some

Toronto parents say it’s “just insane” that thousands of children have been without teachers this week when virtual elementary classes were set to begin.

Angela Matich, a Toronto mother, said her two children were both without teachers on Tuesday and both were disappointed. One is in Grade 3, while the other is in Grade 6. She said she herself is frustrated with the delay.

Every day this week, she said it’ll be a question of finding out: “Did we win the teacher lottery?”

Matich estimated that up to 30,000 children did not have teachers assigned to them as of Tuesday. She said it’s as though more than 40 per cent of children showed up on the first day of school and were told:  “We don’t have a teacher for you. Go home.” 

“That’s just insane to me. I can’t understand how we’ve gotten to this point.”

On Monday, the Toronto District School Board said 60,000 elementary school students had signed up for online classes as COVID-19 cases continue to climb and it had planned for all of them to begin studies on Tuesday.

But the board said it wasn’t able to assign staff to all classes, which means some students have had to wait to begin online school until there is a teacher in place. 

On Monday, the board said it had to hire about 500 elementary teachers to accommodate the number of students registered for online learning.

Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB, said on Tuesday the board has hired about 300 teachers, and still needs to hire about 100 to 150 more. But he said the board hopes to have the majority of them secured by Wednesday. 

WATCH| CBC’s Ali Chiasson talks to parents about the delay in online classes for some students:

The Toronto District School Board says it’s been a struggle to keep up with growing demand for online learning. The board says it still needs to hire about 150 more teachers to get Virtual School for elementary students up and running for all. 2:39

Parents were not impressed that the board waited until the very last minute to tell parents that virtual school would not be and running for all.

Matich said parents took time off work on Tuesday to be there on what they believed would be the first day.

“Kids were crying this morning,” she said.

She said she hopes the children will have teachers by later this week or next week. In the meantime, there has been anxiety, stress and confusion. It has affected the mental health of parents, she added.

Online learning challenging since March, parent says

Matich said online learning has been challenging since the pandemic hit in March and online learning began.

“From the get go, on March 13, it’s been nothing but confusion, lack of communication and frustration for most TDSB parents and I would assume also TDSB staff,” she said.

“Resoundingly, what you will hear from TDSB parents is that there’s a complete lack of timely, relevant and concise information. Parents have to really dig.”

Adrienne Mitchell, another parent, agreed.

“We didn’t tell our JK student Blair that she could potentially have school this morning. It wasn’t worth getting her hopes up again,” Mitchell said.

“She’s been looking forward to school for quite a while. She’s been fairly upset seeing kids go off to school in her neighbourhood and her not being able to participate.”

The Toronto District School Board says it hired about 300 teachers on Monday, but still needs to bring in about 100 to 150 more. The board hopes to have the majority of them secured by Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

In a message on its website on Monday, the board said students not assigned teachers would begin the school year with independent learning.

The board said it is implementing what it calls a “rolling start” to virtual school.

“We know that this will be a disappointment for some and is not how we had hoped to begin the school year. Please let me assure you that efforts to hire more teachers have been ongoing and staff have been working around the clock and through the weekend to keep things moving forward,” the message said.

Board turning to supply teachers to fill the gaps

To fill the gaps, the board said it has “predominantly” pulled from its roster of occasional teachers, who have already been vetted, according to Bird.

That list should be enough to meet its staffing needs, but if it isn’t, the board could urge other teachers to apply to join the pool, he said.

“It is a challenge because we’ve taken a staffing process that typically takes months to complete and organize … and we’ve really condensed that to two to three weeks,” he said.

“Given the reality that we’re facing right now and the changing information over the summer, we could not begin that as early as we had hoped, so the timelines have been quite tight, and then over the weekend it became abundantly clear that the numbers just weren’t adding up.”

The newly hired teachers can’t immediately start their classes since they need to be trained to use the board’s online learning platform, among other things, he said.

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