By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
More than two weeks into the start of a new school year, the number of families opting for virtual school continues to grow.
In a presentation to Durham District School Board trustees at a recent board meeting, Associate Director Jim Markovski notes there has been a significant shift over the past couple of weeks in the number of families requesting to switch from in-person learning with DDSB@Home, the virtual learning platform put in place as an option for students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He says overall, enrolments are higher than what was originally projected in the spring.
According to Markovski, elementary enrolment as of Sept. 15 has increased to 51,481, up from 50,746 in March, equating to an additional 735 elementary students.
Furthermore, secondary enrolment as of Sept. 15 has increased to 21,977, up from 21,557 in March 2020, equating to an additional 420 secondary students.
He says 137 elementary teachers have been added to both the physical and virtual schools to address the increase in registration, as well as maintain a one-metre physical distancing minimum between students in physical classrooms.
“Not only have we met but we are exceeding Kindergarten and elementary class staffing requirements. We can confirm all elementary students have a minimum of one meter distancing between them when in their classroom,” he says, highlighting the board’s reserve funds and the ministry funding have “facilitated improved learning environments by reducing our largest class sizes.”
Since Sept. 2, there are currently 2,300 elementary and 400 secondary students currently on waitlists for the virtual school.
“We anticipate enrolment situations will continue to flux as families are demonstrating renewed interest in virtual learning,” he says, noting although this is what families are doing now, preferences could change as the school year continues.
According to Superintendent Heather Mundy, there are also about 200 students who are requesting to go back to in person school.
“Schools are currently reviewing requests to return to in person and making those transitions as classroom size allows,” she says, noting it’s important to create stability within the in-person classes as well as DDSB@Home.
She says there will be two opportunities throughout the year to do a “system adjustment” to address the waitlist.
“This adjustment will require school reorganization and staff reassignment,” she says.
Mundy notes for the first transition, families can continue to update their preference – whether virtual or in person – until Oct. 5.
“As of Oct. 5, we will review the waitlist and create a plan to address the transition to DDSB@Home,” she adds, noting schools, staff and families will be provided with the restructuring information so there’s time to prepare for the changes that will come on Nov. 16.
“This day follows the progress report timeline and a PA Day that will allow for the opportunity for the transition,” she continues.
Mundy says a second transition to DDSB@Home will occur Feb. 1, 2021, with updated requests as of Jan. 7.
She notes waitlisted students for DDSB@Home will continue to work with their physical school until the transition can occur.
“While students are waiting to transition to DDSB@Home, it is important we still support their learning,” she says, adding schools are currently working with educators to set up Google Classrooms to be able to support these students.
Superintendent Stephen Nevills says it’s a little more complicated with secondary students waitlisted for DDSB@Home due to their timetables, noting the situation is compounded further due to secondary students moving to a quadmester model from a semester model.
He says students currently waitlisted for DDSB@Home will continue to be support by their current timetable teachers at their home school.
“Teachers have been developing their courses in a hybrid format and can use classroom platforms they have created to support students on any waitlist with their learning,” he says.