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In-person or remote learning next year? The clock is ticking for London-area parents to decide

Local parents face a looming deadline to decide whether they want their children to attend school in-person this upcoming school year or have them learn remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) have until May 13 to notify board officials of their decision, while under the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB), parents with secondary school students only have until May 6.

(LDSCB officials say information relating to elementary students will be issued soon.)

“Starting (Thursday), we’re asking all parents to make a decision on which learning model they want for their children in September of 2021,” said Mark Fisher, director of education for the TVDSB, in an interview Wednesday with 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs.

“We really want parents to take some time to weigh their options and think carefully what’s best for their children.”

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Certain programs, such as French Immersion, will only be offered in-person, and not all courses will be available to secondary students enrolled in remote learning, according to the TVDSB.

The board adds that the choice made for each child will be a commitment for the full year, noting that switching between in-person and remote learning, as has been the case with this current school year due to on-and-off lockdowns, can be disruptive.

“We have to have more stability in the system next year so we can’t be having kids moving back and forth. It’s not good for students, it’s not good for teachers,” Fisher said.

“We know that in order for learning to work optimally, students have to have positive relationships with their peers, and they need to have good, strong relationships with their teachers. That’s really difficult if their peers are changing all the time and if their teachers are changing all the time.”

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The school board is trying to give parents choice on the matter while also making sure that a stable system is in place that provides learning environments that work for all students, be they in-person or remote learning, Fisher said.

“The conditions outside of the school buildings are so variable that we just really need to put a model forward that we think is the best we can do given the information that we have today,” he said.

News of the deadline comes just over a week after tens of thousands of London-area students returned to learning remotely following their spring break.

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The province has delayed the return of in-person learning indefinitely as a result of record COVID-19 case rates, and it’s not clear when or if local students may return to the classroom before the current school year ends.

Prior to the lockdown, roughly 10,000 of the TVDSB’s 80,000 students were learning remotely.

Fisher said that although the school board was prepared to return to in-person before June if given the go-ahead, he stressed it was “highly likely that we will continue remote learning for the foreseeable future.”

“We’ve had a couple of times where we’ve flipped back and forth where we had to pivot. That is destabilizing,” Fisher said.

“Right now we’re in a position where we’re comfortable with remote learning. My preference would be to wait and see and have all of our education workers get vaccinated, and when we are more far down that path, then I would feel much more comfortable about having students return face-to-face.”

It’s not clear yet whether TVDSB will continue offering remote learning post-pandemic.

Parents will be contacted about the upcoming school year this week. Parents can also visit the board’s website, or contact the principal of their child’s school, Fisher says.

The London District Catholic School Board says information involving elementary students will be issued to parents at a later unspecified date.

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