Toronto school board teachers, parents struggle with online learning

Teacher and parents of students in the Toronto District School Board were left wondering Monday night what class on Tuesday would look like, and how they'd connect. (Getty)
Teacher and parents of students in the Toronto District School Board were left wondering Monday night what class on Tuesday would look like, and how they’d connect. (Getty)

Less than a day before the first day of virtual school is supposed to begin at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), teachers and families are concerned about the lack of communication, information, and guidance from the board.

Given the months to prepare for virtual school, parents and teachers are questioning the lack of preparation and whether virtual school is evening starting tomorrow.

Karen Jutzi, a TDSB teacher who requested half-day virtual teaching due to family considerations, received a Grade 2 home room for the first time ever in her twenty-year teaching career.

Jutzi is confused about the mix ups. She says she would be more confident teaching a French class considering she has more experience in that.

“It’s definitely been very stressful,” Jutzi said. “On Saturday, all of a sudden, I just felt paralyzed with fear and I felt like I couldn’t do any work because I just don’t have enough information to do my job.”

Jutzi says she is not ready for tomorrow. She does not know the kids in the class, or whether it is even a full-time or part-time position.

“I’m not confident about anything,” Jutzi said. “I have a lot of questions that need to get answered before I actually plan.”

Kim Fry, another TDSB teacher, who will be virtually teaching a Grade 3 class was initially supposed to teach in-person, but decided to switch to virtual after her healthcare practitioner urged her to since she could not teach outdoors like she wanted.

“I don’t think inside is safe,” Fry said. “No teacher I have seen or talked to has seen a nurse. No one’s seen extra caretaking, all the things that they promised, nobody’s actually seen any evidence of those.”  

Fry called herself one of the luckier teachers who knows her grade assignment and has a class list. She found out what grade she’ll be teaching yesterday morning and got access to Brightspace, the platform where she’ll be connecting with her students, just last night.

But, navigating Brightspace has not been easy for Fry either. 

“This has all been poorly managed,” Fry said. “I’m supposed to call the parents, and it’s not clear to me how to do that. I can’t actually figure out how to find the phone numbers.”

Both Jutzi and Fry were hoping to get more information from the board staff meeting that took place via a livestream at 2:00 p.m. today.

Jutzi says the meeting was a one-way conversation that ended within five minutes, whereas Fry could not even get in.

Parents of students feeling stressed too

Ryan Hollinrake, whose nine-year-old son Evan Hollinrake will be doing virtual school, has been refreshing and navigating the TDSB website throughout the day to check for any updates. 

Hollinrake says he is comfortable with using online platforms such as Brightspace, but he needs information to login, access the curriculum, know the layout, and know who his son’s teachers are.

“To actually go and set your child up on Brightspace, you need to log in. But we still don’t know how we are going to log in,” Hollinrake said. “I still don’t have confidence that it’s [school] going to start tomorrow.”

Hollinrake says he is tired of hearing that these are unprecedented times and is not getting any new information.

“This is something that shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody,” Hollinrake said. I’ve reached out directly to TDSB through their general help desk and all I get is the same information.”

Hollinrake runs a charity and says his team was able to go virtual within a few days. 

“All my staff [were] working at home efficiently, we were able to do that within a two-day period. So, how is it that schools can’t do that? It just blows my mind,” Hollinrake said.

TDSB posted a new announcement this evening stating that not everyone will be starting virtual school Tuesday morning.

“We have determined that this [synchronous start] will not be possible for some students due to ongoing efforts to hire staff for virtual classrooms. However, in order to ensure that all students can begin learning on Tuesday morning, we will be implementing a rolling start,” TDSB stated on their website. 

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