During Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Smiths Falls town council received a delegation from the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB): John McAllister, Trustee, Ward 4 and Chair of the Board, and Ron Ferguson, Director of Education and Secretary of the Board. The board members shared with council their concern about the government of Ontario’s efforts to make remote learning a permanent part of education in Ontario. McAllister asked council for their support in seeking a “full public consultation on this topic once the pandemic is behind us.”
The remote learning that took place this year was an emergency situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic; it was not an ideal situation, McAllister explained, but a stop-gap measure to keep students learning while the Covid-19 pandemic kept them out of brick and mortar schools.
The UCDSB is particularly concerned by how this will affect small rural schools, as the board covers a large area with many rural schools. “Staffing for remote learning will come from existing dollars, thereby eroding investments in face-to-face instruction,” McAllister explained. Class sizes determine class availability, and if in-person class sizes shrink, this will further reduce the staffing and availability of various subjects.
The emergency remote-learning model that was adopted for pandemic reasons did not meet students’ needs, explained Ferguson. Furthermore, he added, “a great deal was lost as far as what makes school enjoyable; the social connections and the lifelong friendships.”
Councillor Dwyer asked about the benefits of remote learning, particularly the availability of a wider variety of online subjects to students who would not be able to access these subjects in their smaller schools. McAllister acknowledged that this would be a benefit, but that the current hastily-assembled learning model was not created by educators; it was rather a concession to the emergency situation.
Councillor Allen pointed out the importance of physical schools as community points for families. “Not only do they help the children, but the families that live in the area. They meet other parents, they form social groups and other activities. They need to be part of this conversation as well.”
On the topic of school, Director Kerry Costello added a reminder that school season is fast approaching and asked motorists to be careful of students waiting for buses and crossing streets on their way to school. The first day of school for students in the UCDSB is Tuesday, September 7.