Original Published on Aug 18, 2022 at 09:26

By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For the 2022-23 school year, the Peel District School Board will be moving forward with distinct in-person and e-learning education options for students, putting an end to a hybrid model utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed students to switch back and forth between online and in-person at their leisure. 

In the new model, ahead of the coming semester families will need to choose whether their kids will be learning virtually or in-person. Students enrolled in online secondary school courses will not be able to cross-enroll for in-person courses. 

The hybrid model has received strong criticism since it was introduced. Petitions from angry teachers demanded school boards across Ontario put an end to the practice, which put unnecessary pressure on teachers and teachers unions, set to go back to the bargaining table with the Province ahead of the coming year, have made ending this hybrid model altogether a top priority among their demands. 

Released this past June, a study by Carol Campbell, conducted at the request of the Teacher’s Bargaining Union (TBU), found that of the 87 Peel teachers surveyed, many identified negative impacts of the hybrid model.

These include seeing it as “an ineffective and inefficient approach to teaching and learning;” that it’s challenging to conduct appropriate online student assessments; increased workload and lack of adequate support to effectively implement the hybrid model; and differences in student engagement between in-person and online learners (with online learners being more negatively impacted).

Other critiques include a loss of shared student community; increasing inequities in student experiences and in meeting their learning needs; and inequities in student access to and use of technology.

Jason Bradshaw, who teaches at Castlebrooke Secondary School in Brampton, is supportive of the shift away from the hybrid model, which he says left educators with difficulties trying to prepare lessons synchronously for those students learning in the classroom and those attending virtually. Engaging students in the classroom and those through a computer screen at the same time creates a distinct number of challenges. 

“Honestly we couldn’t really focus on our learning model completely, when we were trying to focus on doing two jobs at the same time,” Bradshaw says. 

Under the hybrid model, educators had to be prepared to shift their lessons on the fly depending on the number of students attending online versus in-person, Bradshaw explains. 

“I have to plan differently if I have 20 students in class and 10 online, as opposed to 20 online and 10 in class. It can be the complete opposite from one day to the other,” he says. “We all know learning in-person and online are two very different things, obviously. There’s two different methods of teaching that have to be employed. When students are in front of you you can do more hands-on things, you can interact with them in certain ways. When they’re online you have to do things differently. Maybe you rely on more simulations and virtual kinds of activities.”

For students who thrive in the virtual learning environment and want to continue virtual learning, Peel Virtual Secondary School (PVSS) will be the only option available for the 2022-23 school year. For elementary students, there’s the Peel Elementary Virtual School (Peel EVS), which is only planned to run for the upcoming year beginning in September. The virtual secondary school is intended to be a permanent addition within the PDSB.

In both online schools students will have the ability to engage with their teachers and peers in real-time in a virtual learning environment. 

PVSS will be rolled out in phases, with basic course selections that provide pathways to graduation beginning in September. Additional courses will continue to be offered over time, with information regarding course selection for students shared with elementary and secondary school administrators and guidance counsellors. 

The PDSB describes the new online system as “for students who thrive in the virtual learning environment and wish to develop digital literacy and other important transferable skills that will help them to succeed in a digital and ever changing world.”

Students will be able to transition back to in-person at their home school at the end of semesters if they choose, and class spots remain available. 

As it is only planned to run for a single year, all students enrolled in the Peel EVS for the 2022-23 school year, will be re-enrolled at their home school in June 2023, but families are warned that in making the choice to enroll in Peel EVS, depending on the class sizes at their school, students may not be able to re-enroll in their home school for in-person learning should they change their mind during the 2022-23 school year. If there is not enough space they could be placed at a different school if they wish to proceed with the switch back to in-person learning. 

At this time, the deadline to enroll in the Peel Virtual Secondary School has passed and will not be extended. The next opportunity to enroll will be at the end of the first semester of the 2022-2023 school year. The board advises that information will be provided when schools reopen in September.

For those interested in shifting to online after the deadline, the school board advises families to speak to their home school guidance counsellor who can advise on the process of changing to PVSS.

Even though the deadline has passed, Bradshaw said that if some families have health concerns with attending in-person, they should still contact their home school. From there, the school should be able to direct them to the specific individuals on the board who can help them make changes.

“They just need to remember, as sad as it is, we are going into another year of pandemic teaching, and pandemic learning. I don’t know if things are going to be 100 percent normal this school year. I do hope things will get better, but I think everybody needs to be patient and understanding that we all just want to make sure students are safe and educators are safe and that really needs to be the number one priority,” Bradshaw says. 

The 2022-23 school year is currently mask-optional, but the PDSB strongly recommends they be worn while indoors. As of August 6, Ontario has had a total of 13,787 COVID-19 related deaths, and 21,512 infections reported in the previous two weeks.

Peel schools have been hit hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When school started in the 2020-21 year, 40 percent of all Ontario school COVID-19 cases came from Mississauga and Brampton. Schools were finding themselves reporting infections daily.

“I just hope parents and families are made aware of it and understand that there will be differences in what choosing online this year means, as opposed to choosing online the last year, and I don’t know if that’s always communicated well to families. Oftentimes the communication gets lost along the way, so people don’t necessarily know what they’re signing up for when they make a decision,” Bradshaw says. 

This coming school year, students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will need to continue to self-isolate following the previous guidelines—which are five days if fully vaccinated or under age 12; 10 days if not fully vaccinated or immunocompromised. 

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 may return to school after five days if symptoms have improved for 24 hours.

If a staff or student tests positive using a take home PCR test kit, they are required to isolate immediately.Testing negative using a take-home PCR test kit means staff and students should stay at home until COVID-19 symptoms improve over the course of 24 hours, or 48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms.

Household close contacts no longer need to isolate if they are over 18 and fully vaccinated as well as boosted, if they are under 18 and fully vaccinated, or they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 90 days. In these cases, household close contacts are required to wear a properly-fitting mask at all times both indoors and outdoors.

This item reprinted with permission from The Pointer, Mississagua, Ontario