Dear parents, caregivers and community members,
The late fall weather seems to have arrived, and somehow that seems fitting -- the leaves are changing and falling, Halloween is almost here (safety tips are included below), and schools are now much closer to where they'd normally be at this time of year. Most importantly, we are seeing that students and staff are settling in and finding innovative and creative ways to adapt to the new school environment (or pivot, as we might say in the age of COVID-19!).
For example, last week a large number of kindergarten and primary classes in our elementary LC1 virtual school participated in a virtual Terry Fox run together with classes in one of our bricks and mortar schools. Classes submitted dance moves and the virtual teacher leading this initiative ran a program where virtual and non-virtual classes participated by logging in from classrooms and homes across the city. And last Friday, Leaside High School ran a club fair, but took it outside so that kids could connect in person and learn about the new ways clubs would be operating this year. Although the pandemic limits many traditional school experiences, it is heartening to see staff and students challenging themselves to find new approaches and creating opportunities for connection.
And speaking of connection, we saw many parents and caregivers connect virtually at the first Virtual TDSB Parents as Partners Conference, which ran all of last weekend. Congratulations to the organizers for a job well done, to all the presenters and volunteers, and to the hundreds of parents/caregivers who attended. If you missed the Conference, or want to check out any workshops you missed, all sessions will be uploaded in the coming days on www.parentsaspartners.ca (both Keynotes and the Panel update with senior staff are already available).
Also, make sure to reserve the weekend of November 21/22 (10:30 am - 2:30 pm) for another virtual Parent Conference organized by the Parent Involvement Advisory Committee (PIAC). It is titled Ready. Set. Engage! Navigating the School Year Together, and will feature both workshops and speakers. Learn more here, and details (including registration-start) will be shared when available.
In the current environment, our information is constantly changing. The TDSB website for Return to School resources is updated regularly to meet this dynamic reality. Please visit www.tdsb.on.ca/Return-to-School regularly for updates.
Each week at a special Committee of the Whole meeting, staff provides Trustees and the public with detailed updates on issues of importance to students, staff, and families around COVID school planning. These update meeting are scheduled for Tuesdays at 4:30pm and are publicly broadcast - you can listen in by accessing the webcasts here.
The most recent COVID-19 update meeting of the Committee of the Whole (CotW) was on October 27. The entire webcast is archived: here. Most of the information is summarized in the presentation slides: here. The items on the Agenda were:
- Devices Update
- Virtual Schools Update
- Leadership and Reorganization Updates
- Mental Health and Well-Being
- School Open House/Transition Information Nights
- COVID-19 Cases Update & Pop-up Testing
For more recent information, click here:
Some of the information in these presentations is highlighted below, but make sure to check the above links for more information about subjects like Adult Day School, IT Devices, Class Sizes, Elementary dates to switch between in-person and virtual learning, and more.
High Schools: switching between in-person and virtual learning; Virtual School update
Last Friday, October 23, TDSB sent an important update to all secondary families about switching between in-person and virtual learning, as well as changes to the virtual learning model for students wishing to start learning virtually for Quadmester 2.
With more than 18,000 secondary students currently enrolled in the TDSB’s Virtual Secondary School, the board cannot accommodate any additional students without a significant reorganization of the system — something that would have a negative impact on our in-person schools and result in many courses having to be collapsed or eliminated.
The ultimate goal is to maintain stability for both in-person schools and the Virtual School, and to continue offering the courses that students need. As a result, TDSB will be changing how virtual learning is delivered to students who request to switch to virtual learning for Quadmester 2. While the Virtual School will continue to operate and support its existing students, students who would like to switch from in-person to virtual learning for Quadmester 2 will be accommodated with a virtual option at their current in-person school.
Switching from In-Person to Virtual Learning: Students who are registered at in-person schools who would like to switch to the virtual model will be provided with more information from their school, including a form to indicate what they would like to do. This change would take effect at the start of Quadmester 2 on November 23, 2020.
Switching from the Virtual School to In-Person Learning: Students who are currently registered in the Virtual School and would like to return to their in-person school must contact the guidance counsellor at their in-person school by October 28, 2020 to see if a timetable can be created for the specific courses they have requested for Quadmesters 2, 3 and 4. If a timetable can be created, a transfer to the in-person school will be facilitated. Please note that space may be limited and a transfer may not be possible.
Secondary Virtual School update
As per October 20, the Virtual Secondary School counted 719 classroom teachers plus 86 Student Success/Guidance/Resource teachers, for a total of 805 teachers. With only one Virtual Secondary School in the TDSB, this school now accommodates more than 18,500 students!
Classes have reached the midterm point and are settled into routines. Many teachers with the same course assignment are collaborating with one another to ensure consistency in delivery. Student Success teachers are reaching out to non-attendees and will follow up with families. Resource teachers have started developing IEPs for students with special needs.
Plans are underway to begin scheduling students who do not have a full timetable for Quads 2, 3 and 4.
Teachers continue to participate in workshops offered through the TDSB Digital Lead Learners on Brightspace, where they can further develop their knowledge of the various features of the Learning Management System, including the “Grades” feature.
Virtual School - Elementary Schools update
The creation of virtual schools to accommodate over 1/3rd of our student population has been an enormous undertaking. Once severely understaffed, more than 400 teachers and 41 Vice-Principals have now been transferred from our bricks and mortar schools to our virtual schools. This massive re-organization has gone a long way towards "right-sizing" our virtual schools. Every class now has a teacher, although we continue to be short a significant number of French teachers. Staff has worked on implementing some creative strategies to ensure the requirements from French Immersion can be met. And, of course staff is continuing to fill vacancies as they arise. As our supply teacher list is completely exhausted, staff continue to recruit for this list as well.
Ward 11 is part of Learning Centre 1. The Elementary LC 1 Virtual School (VS LC1) has 539 teachers. Of these 539 teachers, 46 are assigned to French Immersion/Extended French, 27 to Core French, and 7 to Resource/Special Education. In total, the four Virtual schools have 2,579 homeroom teachers; 226 French Immersion/Extended French teachers, and 145 Core French/Resource/Special Education teachers).
One of the biggest challenges staff have faced in the virtual school has been around communication. The addition of 41 VPs, mentioned above, is expected to streamline and improve communication. We are also looking at various ways to engage our parents, like virtual school newsletters and virtual parent sessions (webcasts).
We are trying to create a more personal relationship/connection with parents, and are working with telecommunications to allow parents to call the main TDSB number and be connected to a VP who are assigned to a grade. This may well go to a voicemail system but it allows for a voice at the end of the line and create the much needed connection with families. And with this additional staff, administrators expect to be able to respond more promptly to parent concerns.
In addition, our communications department has created a Virtual School Twitter Feed - @TDSBVS - to showcase some of what is happening in our classrooms every day, as we do in our bricks and mortar schools. Many teachers are now beginning to share what is happening in virtual classrooms across the district. If you are on Twitter, consider following @TDSBVS.
NEW – Digital Resources to Support Mathematics Instruction in VS
The Central Math Team has secured access to Mathology licenses (English and French) for Kindergarten and Grades 4-6 Virtual School teachers, as well as MathUp licenses for Grades 1-3 (English and French) and Grades 4-8 (English only) Virtual School teachers. These products are teacher licenses, and are not issued on a per student basis.
- Mathology: Teachers will have access to the Mathology.ca (English) or Mathologie.ca (French) platform, which includes curriculum-aligned lessons, activities, little books, assessment tools, and just-in-time professional learning videos.
- MathUp: Teachers will have access to the mathup.ca platform, with grade-specific pathways containing rich lessons, activities, suggestions for differentiation and professional learning resources. Student activities, such as number talks, brain benders, and digital games are also included. French is available for Grades 1-3 only.
We are also exploring digital resources for early and adolescent readers and providing a number of tools for assessment of our students.
We are continuing to provide professional learning for educators in the areas of Brightspace, Tech tools, Equity, French, Special Education, English Language Learners, and will be providing upcoming sessions on Universal Design for Learning, Differentiated Instruction, Guided Reading, Mathematics and Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy.
Active COVID-19 in Schools Advisories
The Toronto District School Board is committed to providing up to date information about confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools (students and staff). This information is easily accessible by clicking on the COVID-19 Advisories banner on the main webpage www.tdsb.on.ca.
Please note that all schools where there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 will receive a letter from Toronto Public Health to inform them about the possible exposure. If individuals or classes need to quarantine or self-isolate, they will be informed specifically.
Ventilation, HEPA filters, and Fundraising
Last Friday, a note was sent to School Councils and Principals from Craig Snider, Associate Director, Business Operations and Service Excellence:
"We know that there have been a number of questions regarding fundraising for portable High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) units and we wanted to provide clarification on this issue.
According to the latest information from Toronto Public Health, while there is no evidence that air purifiers on their own are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19, they may be useful as a supplement to mechanical ventilation or if there is no outdoor air exchange in a room.
The Ministry of Education has provided $6.9 million in funding to the TDSB to improve air ventilation in our schools, and this funding is being used to purchase approximately 6,000 commercial HEPA units for all classrooms without mechanical ventilation or with limited ability to provide fresh air. Please see the list of schools that will be receiving these HEPA units. School not included on the list have sufficient ventilation for students, as currently recommended by TPH.
The Ministry of Education Fundraising Guideline states that schools and school councils are not permitted to fundraise for anything that government funding typically covers. Fundraising for HEPA units or other HVAC-related items for a specific school is not permitted because the province specifically provided funding to school boards for this purpose.
For more information about HEPA units in TDSB schools, please see the Questions & Answers on our website."
The schools in Ward 11 that will receive these units are:
- Bedford Park PS
- Bennington Heights ES
- Dunlace PS
- Harrison PS
- John Fisher JPS
- Marc Garneau CI
- Maurice Cody JPS
- Rolph Road ES
- Thorncliffe Park ES
Please note mechanical ventilation does not mean air conditioning - mechanical ventilation is a method of forced or induced ventilation by using mechanical air handling systems, commonly called HVAC systems. In mechanical ventilation, blowers, fans, filters, and ducts are used for transporting and removing air from a space.
Facility Team Leaders will conduct a school-by-school analysis to determine how many units are required for each school on this list. Please note other schools may have adequate ventilation HVAC systems even if they don’t have operable windows. Should you be concerned, please let me know and I will ask for clarification and can request that Facilities review. Should additional schools be identified, they will be added to the list.
The Toronto District School Board’s Renewal Needs Backlog (RNB) list identifies approximately 23,400 different types of repairs needed in our schools. The total value of those repairs was $3.5 billion as of September 2020. This is unchanged from last year.
The Ministry hires external consultants to inspect each school every five years and provides the TDSB with updated information. This is equivalent to 20 percent of our schools. The consultant assesses the condition of each school and determines what needs to be repaired or replaced (e.g. floors, walls, heating and ventilation systems) based on life cycle, the urgency of the repairs/replacements and Facility Condition Index (FCI) rating. Generally, the more repairs a school needs, the higher the FCI. In some cases, the FCI is so high that a school is rated for eventual replacement.
In recent years, when consultants have been assessing school buildings and components, they have been moving backlog requirements into future years, where they find building components still have capacity to perform as intended. The impact of this change has been a reduction in the backlog for the current year, but an increase to the backlog in future years. This is due to the movement of components for the current year into the 4 years following the current year. By way of example, for a low-priority repair such as the replacement of interior doors, the replacement date for this repair is pushed out by another five years, and not part of the current window of deferred maintenance backlog. As a result, there is no significant change in the 5-year projected renewal needs backlog and it now stands at approximately $5.1 billion.
To learn more about the Renewal Needs Backlog and the Facility Condition Index, read: here. The status for each school can be found on its TDSB webpage (to be found: here).
Motion: Dismantling Systemic Barriers to Inclusion in Discipline Procedures
Back in August, the Provincial Government removed the ability of Principals to suspend children in JK-Gr.3 for activities that fell under section 306(1) of the Education Act. When this occurred, Trustee Dan MacLean (Ward 2) and I were happy to see this, but felt the change did not go far enough, as it failed to call for the removal of these types of suspensions from the Ontario Student Records of children who were given suspensions under this category prior to August 2020. Trustee data indicates that our disciplinary system has significant issues with systemic racism. For example, Black students are suspended at a rate three times higher than their student population should indicate; for Indigenous students, this rate is 6 times higher.
Trustee MacLean and I sit on a lot of suspension and appeal hearings, and one of the things we have repeatedly heard from parents is the worry about the long-term negative impacts of these suspensions on their children. For example, that an early suspension alters how children perceive themselves, that it alters their perception by others and leads to the labelling of children that follows them year to year, school to school, affecting how families and children feel about school and the education system as a whole.
To this end, trustees often make recommendations that ask principals to remove these suspensions from records after a specific period of time has passed, pending good behaviour on the part of the student, but these requests are not currently tracked and we have no way to know if they are carried out.
Our motion attempts to deal with these problems, and then also seeks to go further by asking staff in our Caring and Schools department to work with staff in our newly-established Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement to identify and create a plan for addressing systemic barriers to inclusion in our disciplinary process and to report back to trustees on this work in the spring.
I am extremely pleased to report that this motion passed unanimously at standing committee last night, and will go to Board for final approval on November 11th. To read a draft of this motion, please click here.
Early French Immersion (SK entry): Registration (Nov.2) and Information
Applications to the Early French Immersion program are made the year your child is in Junior Kindergarten (or is of Junior Kindergarten age) for entry in Senior Kindergarten. It is an entirely online process (information: here).
To apply for the Early French Immersion Program (SK entry) for September 2021, applications must be completed online between November 2 and November 27, 2020 (please do NOT wait until the last days as missing the date will likely mean losing a place in French Immersion).
Please note: an offer of placement in the French Immersion program (not at a specific school) is guaranteed to all on-time applicants and will be made in the weeks following the close of the application window. Families with an older sibling currently enrolled in the same French program and who will be in attendance next year are still required to complete an online application for the new student. Please select the “sibling option” within the online application.
This year, there will be three virtual (online webchat) information sessions for families interested in the Early French Immersion (SK entry) application process:
Toronto Police Services update - School Liaison Officers redeployed
As outlined in the linked letter from the Toronto Police Service (TPS), effective November 9, 2020, all Community School Liaison Officers (CSLO) that are a part of School Engagement Teams (SET) will be redeployed to frontline Primary Response Unit activities. These officers have been attached to specific elementary schools in the Board and have provided ongoing support with respect to school and community safety.
According to the TPS, this reassignment will allow officers to focus existing resources on areas that have experienced the most gun and gang violence. This decision applies to schools in both the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
The CSLO and SET officers were deployed to elementary schools only. Secondary schools in the TDSB are not impacted by this decision. Secondary schools in the TDSB have not had a consistent police presence in schools since the School Resource Officer program was terminated in 2017.
School administrators have been provided with directions regarding police support when they need it.
Kathy Witherow new Interim Director; Permanent Director Search
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Dr. Kathy Witherow was announced as the Interim Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board, replacing Carlene Jackson, who was appointed as Ontario’s Comptroller General.
Since June 2018, Dr. Witherow has served as the TDSB’s Associate Director of Leadership, Learning and School Improvement. She has been an instrumental part of the TDSB’s senior management team, helping to lead the safe re-opening of the TDSB’s 583 in-person schools and virtual schools during the COVID -19 pandemic.
For more information, please read the news release.
Permanent Director of Education Search
The Toronto District School Board is in the process of recruiting its next Director of Education. This process is being led by a Trustee Director Search Committee (a committee I sit on), in partnership with Mandrake, an executive search firm. The job was posted on October 7 and applications were accepted until October. 28, 2020. I will continue to provide updates once publicly available!
To learn more about the search process and the role of a Director of Education, please visit www.tdsb.on.ca/directorsearch.
TDSB Participates in Take Our Kids to Work Day!
Take Our Kids to Work Day (TOKTWD) is a day that lasts a lifetime for students. On Wednesday, November 4, 2020, Canada’s longest-running, highest-profile career exploration event is going virtual, offering more options than ever before! TDSB students can learn, explore, and engage in career exploration activities that could spark their excitement for learning and looking ahead to an exciting career. TDSB is partnering with The Learning Partnership to provide educators with a range of exciting ways for students to participate in Take Our Kids to Work Day. Despite the pandemic, the TDSB is committed to providing our Grade 9 students with this amazing opportunity in all of our classroom settings (face-to-face, synchronously, asynchronously and remotely). This year, Take Our Kids to Work Day can be accessed in real-time or at a later date by accessing the recorded sessions to inspire an exciting, engaging day of career exploration.
Grade 9 students will participate in:
- Pre-activities to prepare students for the day ahead
- A Kick-off Event where they will hear from a range of workplaces and professionals who will share messages of hope and resilience and bring to life the real-world skills that have led to their success,
- Live Take Our Kids to Work Day Breakout Sessions exploring Skilled Trades, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Healthcare and Technology & Finance.
Parents, guardians and caregivers can access this Family Guide to find out how to get the most out of the day for their child whether they participate at their parent/guardian’s work, at school, or at home. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to connect with their kids and join the fun during this year’s event.
Ontario Government changes Regulation 274/12: Hiring Practices
Last Thursday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce issued a statement announcing the revocation of Ontario Regulation 274/12: Hiring Practices. Starting October 29, 2020, school boards will be asked to use an interim policy until a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) is issued in November. Boards will then be required to “develop and post their own teacher hiring policies that align with the PPM and respect existing collective agreements.”
The Ontario Public School Board Association (OPSBA) has been advocating for the repeal of this regulation which favours seniority as the most important factor in teacher hiring, since its introduction in September 2012. Click here for the full OPSBA statement.
2021 Prime Minister's Awards
Please note the announcement of the nomination period for important Awards:
The Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence - These awards honour outstanding and innovative elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines for their remarkable educational achievements and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital and innovation‑based economy.
The Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence in STEM -
These awards recognize inspirational Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teachers at the elementary or secondary school level who keep students engaged in STEM learning and who help develop the culture of innovation that Canada needs today, and in the future
For more information on those two awards, please click here.
The Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education - These awards honour outstanding and innovative early childhood educators for their leadership, exemplary early childhood education practices, and their commitment to help build the foundation children need to make the best possible start in life. For more information, please click here.
Nomination packages must be submitted to the Prime Minister's Awards program office by January 12, 2021 — 11:59 a.m. Pacific Time
Heritage and History Months
While we normally celebrate the opening of these events in person, this year, virtual is the way to go! This month, October, we celebrate Islamic Heritage Month and Somali Heritage Month. To learn more, click on the following links:
Next month, November, we honour Indigenous Education Month: this month reminds us to centre First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives, histories and contemporary realities. In classrooms across the TDSB, it is an opportunity to learn about treaties, Indigenous leadership, achievements, and resistance.
Over the course of this month, students, staff and community members recognize a number of important days to deepen knowledge, to learn together about our shared history, and to build stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. For more information:
November is also Hindu Heritage Month. Stay tuned for more information in the next newsletter, and/or check www.tdsb.on.ca.
As a result of COVID-19 in our city, schools will be celebrating Halloween a little differently. Toronto Public Health has provided direction on celebrating Halloween in schools. While they have advised against Halloween dances and parades, there are still many ways to have fun and celebrate safely in the school setting. This may include Halloween art activities (check out the picture above of one of the many creative ward 11 classroom doors, this one courtesy of Thorncliffe Park PS!), celebrating virtually with other classrooms, reading Halloween stories or watching a movie.
Staff or students should not bring candy to school for sharing with others.
Students can still dress up in a costume, however, because they are required to wear masks/face coverings in school, they should:
- not wear a costume mask on top of their face covering
- not remove their face covering and wear only a costume mask. A costume mask does not replace a face covering.
- not wear make-up, from below the eyes to ensure their face coverings are not dirtied.
Read more from Toronto Public Health about celebrating Halloween safely this year:
Finally, I have received concerns about large groups of teens congregating on school sites this fall, creating excessive noise and litter (including loud music in the evenings, leaving broken bottles and garbage, etc), and not following physical distancing guidelines. While I understand how important social connections are to young people, TDSB is hoping for your assistance in encouraging your children to be safe, to be mindful of being good neighbours, and to be aware of how they might make others feel when out and about in the community. These are challenging times for all of us -- students, parents, staff and community members -- and we want to make sure we all look after each other.
Rachel Chernos Lin