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Virtual graduations all but certain, return to classrooms unclear: TVDSB

As the Thames Valley District School Board prepares for the majority of its students to return to remote learning, the director of education is cautioning that in all likelihood, graduations will be virtual events this year.

Mark Fisher, director of education is also letting parents and guardians know now that it’s possible remote learning could last the rest of the school year.

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“I can’t see a scenario where we’re doing face-to-face graduations. And I think our community needs to be prepared for any and all eventualities,” he says.

“I’d love to say that we’ll be open in another four or six weeks, but the reality is that we may be remote learning for the rest of this year. It’s really difficult to predict.”

Most students will be returning to remote learning on Monday following a week-long break resulting from the postponement of the traditional March break.

After a year of adjusting to remote learning, Fisher says the TVDSB is prepared for the switch.

“I won’t say that it’s seamless, but people are ready to to make these pivots and to keep high quality teaching and learning going forward.”

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For elementary school students, teachers will reach out directly, and will be providing independent assignments on Monday before synchronous learning begins Tuesday. Fisher says it will be a very similar experience to January’s remote learning.

For secondary school students, Fisher says the morning will begin asynchronously, and then afternoons will be spent with synchronous, live learning. He also says the TVDSB is moving away from the cohort system.

“We did have kids and cohorts divided in half to keep everybody safe. Obviously, when you’re not face-to-face, the need to do that disappears. So they’ll be going with all their classmates every day, starting in the next quadmester,” he says, which begins April 26.

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Fisher says over the last year, roughly 25,000 learning devices have been distributed to those who need them.

“If for some reason your child needs the device, please let your teacher or principal know that,” Fisher says.

“The other thing is, I know there are some families that are having difficulty accessing essential school supplies. We have an educational foundation, a charitable foundation that is available to fill in gaps for those families. So please, again, reach out to your teacher or reach out to your principal.”

While the majority of students will be moving entirely to online learning, about 1,100 students with complex special education needs will continue to learn in-person starting Tuesday.

“We know for many families and many students that are in this situation that the remote learning just does not work. So we have a lot of enhanced health and safety protocols in place and those students will be ready to return as of Tuesday.”

Click to play video: Criticism over Ontario’s mixed messaging as schools ordered to shift online

Fisher says his preference “as an educator, director, and as a parent,” is for in-person learning, but he understands that “right now our medical experts are saying we can’t guarantee safety.” He’s hoping students can find ways to connect with their peers virtually.

The province announced on Monday that students will be staying in remote learning indefinitely following the April break as the province continues to see record breaking COVID-19 case and ICU numbers.

On Thursday, the province reported 4,736 new COVID-19 cases — a new single-day high — and 29 additional deaths.

The provincial total now stands at 403,571, surpassing the 400,000 mark, with the most recent 100,000 new cases recorded within the last six weeks alone.

— with files from Global News’ Jessica Patton and Gabby Rodrigues.

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