Dear parents, caregivers and community members,
It is hard to remember a more challenging time in education than these last couple of weeks. After 6 months in education limbo, our system is largely back up and running, but it has not been as smooth as we might have hoped. On the positive side, bricks & mortar schools are now in the swing of things, though there have been some bumps in the road (such as three schools in our Ward 11 affected by single positive COVID-19 cases at the time of writing this newsletter). Virtual schools are getting there -- the majority of classes are now online, but some families in our ward are awaiting their teachers to finish their onboarding, and a some families, particularly those in French Immersion, are still without teachers. These families are, quite understandably, extremely frustrated.
The COVID-19 case counts in Ontario, and Toronto, in particular, continue to climb. With that in mind, it is crucial that we all pull together and remain vigilant in our approach to COVID-19, making sure we are following the screening measures with integrity, paying attention to hand hygiene, and wearing masks according to protocols.
I know it appears as though information is ever-changing, but we are in new territory each and every day, and so I encourage everyone to keep checking the TDSB's website regularly as more information is released and updated. In the meantime, however, please read on below for updates about the following items:
MASK & FACE COVERING REQUIREMENTS - updated
In response to rising confirmed cases of COVID -19, health agencies and provincial and municipal governments are reviewing and updating health and safety measures in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus.
The TDSB is also reviewing its health and safety measures and making changes where needed.
The TDSB’s Mask Guidelines have been updated in light of increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases around the city and Province, as well as confirmed cases among school staff and students.
The guidelines have also been updated to provide additional direction regarding mask exemption requests. Important changes are highlighted in yellow throughout the updated Mask Guidelines.
These Mask Guidelines have been developed to address our collective responsibility to follow public health and Ministry of Education requirements known to be effective in combatting the transmission of COVID-19.
Unless an exemption applies that would allow a student, staff or visitor to attend in person without a mask, the wearing of appropriate masks is mandatory at TDSB schools or buildings.
MORE COVID-19 INFORMATION
Each day, before coming to school or work, students and staff should conduct a self-assessment of how they are feeling.
This can be done using a paper-based confirmation, or pre-screen online using the mobile or web-based apps (learn more here and here!).
Toronto Public Health Resoures & Testing Sites
Toronto Public Health (TPH) has created a COVID-19 Return to School information web resource specifically for families. The website has links to TPH protocols and information about monitoring symptoms, self-isolation, immunization clinics, and other resources.
A current list of COVID-testing sites, including hospital sites, mobile clinics, and pharmacy-based testing can be found through the TPH COVID-19 Testing website.
There is one large testing site in TDSB Ward 11 at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (2075 Bayview Avenue). The Sunnybrook testing site is now open to children over 1year of age, and the hours are Mon-Fri, 11am to 7:30pm and Sat/Sun 9:30am-5:30pm. More information on the Sunnybrook Testing website.
In addition, there is currently a pop-up mobile testing site at the TNO Youth Centre (45 Overlea Blvd) running from Sept.29 thru Oct.17. This testing site accepts children over 3 months of age and adults, and is open daily from 12pm - 7pm.
Finally, as of this week, the Leaside Shoppers Drug Mart location at 1601 Bayview Avenue (between Millwood Avenue and Fleming Crescent) is now offering COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic individuals, including children. Lots of options open nearby for testing, so if you are experiencing symptoms or have potentially been exposed, please seek testing, follow quarantine rules, and stop the spread of COVID-19.
All COVID-positive cases among staff and students of the TDSB are reported to Toronto Public Health (TPH). TPH then follows up with contact tracing and directs the TDSB and local schools on next steps including reporting, quarantine, and classroom or school closures.
Active, confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and/or staff in TDSB schools are reported daily on the TDSB COVID Advisories page.
Please note that all schools where there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 where the affected individual was potentially contagious while at school will receive a letter from TPH to inform them about the possible exposure and next steps. Learn more about Provincial Guidelines for COVID-management and the TDSB's Response Plan with regard to COVID-19 case management for schools and administrative sites.
This summer, Health Canada launched a Bluetooth-based COVID-19 exposure alert app called COVID Alert.
The app uses a novel approach to determine whether you (your device) has been within contact proximity of another app user, but it does not collect or monitor personal information. For more information, please visit the COVID Alert webpage. We encourage everyone to download this app if it is compatible with their phones.
VIRTUAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS - Update September 27/28
The launching of TDSB's Virtual School has been extraordinarily challenging, and has caused considerable stress and frustration for some students, parents, staff, and trustees, alike. With the number of students in the Virtual School increasing from 60,000 in early September, to over 77,000 on its launch date, staffing for these numbers has proved problematic despite board staff working all summer to build a robust roster of teachers. As students have been placed in classes over the past weeks, including those in smaller ISP classes, the number of teachers required in the Virtual School has increased from 2,200 to 2,400. Staff are working exceptionally hard each and every day to recruit, interview, hire and on-board new staff as quickly as possible.
Parents/Students Currently Without a Teacher Assignment
Work has continued through and since the weekend to hire teachers — an issue being faced by a number of school boards in the GTA — and the goal is to have all classrooms up and running by mid-to-late this week. As of 5pm on Monday, Sept. 28, staff was looking to hire approximately 95 more teachers (a total of roughly 15 English and 80 French Immersion/Extended French teachers total), and creative solutions were being considered to meet the needs of our French programs. Staff are making progress and anticipate that all positions will be filled over the coming days.
If your child does not yet have a teacher assigned, please continue to access the independent learning resources web page where more resources, activities and live teacher-led videos have been added for the second week. As well, daily live sessions for Kindergarten to Grade 8 continue and recordings of all sessions are also available online.
Teacher Communication: Once hired and assigned to a class, teachers are provided two days of Brightspace training and will then get their virtual classroom up and running and contact families/students. At this point, we anticipate that all Virtual School classrooms will be underway by mid-to-late this week and families that have not yet heard from a teacher should expect contact in that timeframe.
Board Communication: Trustees have stressed with staff that regular and frequent communication about progress on the roll out of the Virtual School is essential. All Elementary Virtual School families will receive a further update on Tuesday, September 29.
If you are a teacher with questions about Brightspace, please visit KEY to Learn, under Course Registration and the Virtual School Staff section.
Principal Contact Information
We understand that you may have questions or concerns and would like to speak directly with someone at your child’s Virtual Elementary School. If your regular school is located in Ward 11, then you are in the Learning Centre 1 (LC1) Virtual Elementary School. There are three principals assigned to LC1, and their contact information is as follows:
Virtual School Teacher Absences
Please be aware that, at this time, it may not be possible to provide a replacement teacher to cover classes when the classroom teacher is absent. Students are encouraged to complete work that has been assigned by the classroom teacher or are encouraged to access the available resources and videos on the Asynchronous (independent) Learning Activities web page.
Elementary Virtual School Class Placement Criteria
Students in JK - grade 4 have been clustered into classes with students from the same grade from the same home school as much as possible. As a general guiding principle, there are at least 2 or more students together in a virtual class from the same homeschool. In some cases at the various stages of placements there was only one student request from a school per grade. In order for TDSB to accomplish this guiding principle, it required students to be hand registered in Trillium (the student registration system) one at a time.
Student in grades 5-8 have been registered by grade cohorts with a balance of gender while trying to have as much diversity in our classes as possible. While there may be students from their homeschool in their class, it is not a consistent practice as the JK-4 cohort, because the large numbers of students interested in Virtual School prevented staff from following the same practice. It would have required several more weeks to cohort all grades by home school.
There may be students in classes with the same surname letter, but we ensured distinct surnames in classes as much as possible.
VIRTUAL HIGH SCHOOL COURSES ADDED - Apply by Sept.30
Due to the significant increase in demand for the Virtual School just prior to the September 15 deadline, some high school students do not yet have full timetables. To address this issue, additional sections for courses were created last week. These classes will begin on Monday, October 5 and end on Wednesday, November 25. They will run Monday to Friday, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and include a two-hour synchronous/live session with the teacher (same as courses in Periods 1 and 2).
Students must register for these classes through eReg to expedite the process; the deadline to register is September 30. Access to these classes is restricted to students in the Virtual Secondary School who could not get full Quad 1 timetables. Instructions and registration information are posted: here.
In order to meet the significant demand, we continue to explore additional offerings during Quad 2, as well as Saturday offerings.
SWITCHING BETWEEN ELEMENTARY VIRTUAL SCHOOL AND IN-PERSON LEARNING: Deadline September 30, 4pm
Please note that 4 p.m. on September 30 is the deadline for elementary students to request a switch between the Virtual School and in-person (in-school) learning. This change would take effect on October 13, 2020 (the day after Thanksgiving). After that, students will remain in their current learning model until the next key entry date.
- Families of elementary students who would like to switch from in-person learning to the Virtual School must contact their in-person school before the deadline to request the change.
- Families who would like to request a switch from the Virtual School to in-person learning must complete the Virtual School Opt-Out online form before the deadline.
To complete this form, you will need your child’s Student Number. Please email your child's teacher (or home school) if you do not know this number.
Please note: For families who do not yet have a teacher assigned or have not yet connected with a teacher in Virtual School, please be assured that the TDSB will proceed with assigning your child a teacher and class as soon as possible and you will remain prioritized.
Deadline to request an exemption from synchronous (live online) learning requirements: EXTENDED to October 20
Individual requests for an exemption from the minimum requirements for synchronous learning can be made to the School Superintendent. If granted, the superintendent will ensure that alternative learning approaches are put in place for all exempted students, and will respond in writing to all exemption requests. Teachers will be responsible for all aspects of instructional programming for exempted students. Approved exemptions will be stored in the student’s Ontario Student Record and will expire three months after the date of approval. Exemptions can be extended beyond the 3-month period by re-applying for another exemption prior to the expiration date.
More information about the minimum requirements, application deadlines, and more, can be found: here.
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION SEARCH: new delegation date!
Trustees at the TDSB are searching for a permanent Director of Education. As a member of the search committee, I am one of eleven trustees working with executive-search firm Mandrake to bring the best candidate forward this fall.
Our Board is excited to involve the public in learning about the process.
Please note an additional date was added to hear input on the Search Criteria for the Director on October 1 at 4:30pm.
To learn more about the delegation process, click here. It is important to know that to register a delegation, you need to contact the TDSB 2 days before Oct.1, either by email (email@example.com), phone (416-397-3627), or fax (416-393-9969, marked "Attention: Written Submission for Consideration by Trustees.")
Key upcoming dates in the search process:
October 6: Final Approval of Director Search Criteria - Committee of the Whole, followed by a Special Board Meeting.
October 7: Candidate Recruitment - Job Posting (Post closing: October 28).
November: Candidate Interviews and Assessment; Candidate Selection.
To learn more about the Director Search process, including an informational Webinar and Presentation, please check out our microsite here.
SCHOOL TRAVEL: Safety & Overlea bridge petition
For students and their families with the ability to do so, active school travel (i.e. travel by walking, cycling or other personal mobility devices) is the preferred option for all students not travelling by school bus or public transit.
Overlea Bridge bike lanes petition: Like in most communities in Don Valley West, many students from Valley Park Middle School and Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute walk and bike to school. For students from Thorncliffe Park, the Overlea Bridge has long been a bottleneck where cyclists ride the sidewalk (potentially endangering pedestrians) instead of using the road (where busy and often speeding traffic endangers them on a rather narrow roadway).
Marc Garneau CI Student, Hafeez Alavi, has started a petition to ask for temporary protected bike lanes. This is an important initiative, worthy of speedy and comprehensive community consultation.
School Bus transport: Students that do not live within the immediate school area and are eligible for school bus transportation are encouraged to travel by school bus to minimize additional traffic at the school during drop-off and pick-up times. Safety protocols are now in place for students traveling by this mode. To learn more about these safety protocols, please click here.
Care driving/parking: When active school travel or travel by school bus is not possible, caregivers are encouraged to park legally at a distance from the school and travel actively the rest of the way. For pick-up and drop-off at the school site, priority should be given to caregivers of very young children and members of the school community with special needs. A Routes to School Map has been created for every TDSB elementary school to assist families with recognizing 5-minute and 10-minute walking/wheeling distance points along their routes.
Regardless of the way in which students get to school this fall, practicing safe school travel should be the priority!
PARENT ENGAGEMENT: School Councils & Conferences
School Council Operations were updated last week in a message from TDSB Associate Director, Karen Falconer, to School Councils and Administrators (copied: here).
Among the updates:
- Parents/Caregivers with children in the Virtual School will be allowed to fully participate in School Councils of their 'in-person' school
- School Council meetings are to be held virtually due to protocols on numbers allowed to meet in person
- School Council elections, where possible, will be held by the week of October 19 - more details forthcoming this week
- School Councils will receive Zoom Accounts for meetings, and access to SchoolMessenger for sending messages to the school community
Please reserve the following dates for exciting Parent Engagement Events.
ORANGE SHIRT DAY - Wednesday, September 30
On Wednesday, September 30, 2020 TDSB staff, students and communities wear orange to recognize the legacy of the Residential Schools System for First Nations, Métis and Inuit families and communities. By wearing orange, we acknowledge the history of Residential Schools in Canada and we honour Survivors.
On Wednesday, September 30, 2020:
- please wear orange to participate in Orange Shirt Day;
- please join from 12:00 - 12:30 PM for a Virtual Circle on Google Meet to commemorate;
- follow @UIEC_tdsb and @tdsb on Twitter to see how students and staff from across the Toronto District School Board recognize Orange Shirt Day.
Roehampton Residence shelter - Community Bulletin
Yesterday, the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration Division at the City of Toronto published the 5th Community Bulletin about the Roehampton Residence, the temporary shelter activated to support physical distancing in response to COVID-19, located at 808 Mount Pleasant Avenue.
As this shelter is located in the immediate area of multiple schools, I sit on two committees established to alleviate the impact of the shelter on the school community. The first is the Roehampton Residence School Committee, comprised of local school council chairs, local principals, vice-principals, superintendents, TDSB staff, trustees (myself and Shelley Laskin), city staff, shelter staff and Toronto Police Services. This group was meeting monthly throughout August, advising city and shelter staff on the establishment of school safety plans for those schools in close proximity to the shelter (North Toronto CI, Northern SS, Eglinton JPS, John Fisher JPS, Maurice Cody JPS and Hodgson MS). Now that school is underway and the plans have been established, we are now meeting every two weeks to evaluate what is working and where we need improvement.
Trustee Laskin and I also sit on the newly-established Community Liaison Committee for the Roehampton Residence. In its inaugural CLC meeting on September 17, members discussed the Terms of Reference and raised ideas and concerns, including some recent incidents on and adjacent to TDSB properties.
We continue to follow developments closely and remain committed to advocating for student and staff safety, first and foremost.
To read Community Bulletin #5, including a Q&A section about the School Safety Plan(s) of the Roehamption Residence, click: here.
Finally, a few reminders about being good neighbours. Our local schools are open to the community during non-school hours to enjoy and use respectfully. However, we are finding an increase in older children congregating on school property in the evenings. With COVID-19 keeping everyone outside, this is not unexpected, but we do ask that all families and students be considerate of these shared spaces, school property, and our school neighbours. Excessive noise, littering and bad behaviour reflect poorly on our community and are not in keeping with the wonderful sense of community we are fortunate to have in Ward 11.
As we enter the final days of September in what has undoubtedly been one of the more difficult periods in our collective experience, I hope we can all practice kindness, be empathetic, and look after each other. As a community and here at the TDSB, we are in uncharted territory, and we thank everyone for all their support and continued patience as we break new barriers in education.
And, as always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly with any issues, concerns or comments.
Rachel Chernos Lin