When the school year begins at Alexmuir Junior Public School over the next week, the hallways will not be filled with the usual bustle of the fall semester.
In fact, there will not be many students at the school in Scarborough at all.
According to a report released by the Toronto District, only 26% of students at Alexmuir, located near Midland Avenue and Finch Avenue East, are enrolled in in-person learning, and 68% are enrolled in online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. School board recently. (There was no response from the remaining 6 percent of households.) Rates are equally low at other nearby schools; Of the 10 TDSB elementary schools with the lowest in-person learning enrollment rates, nine are in Scarborough.
It is no coincidence, said Mitzie Hunter, Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood.
“Parts of Scarborough have been COVID hotspots since the start of the pandemic. People know that if there is community spread, it is more likely to be in schools. I believe people are afraid, ”Hunter said in an interview.
Jennifer Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto union local, which has taught at several schools in Scarborough, said some parents in the area were probably reluctant for students to infect older parents, many of whom live in the area. same household.
“There are a lot of multigenerational homes in the areas where these schools are located,” Brown said.
In the northwestern part of Toronto – which has also been disproportionately hit hard by COVID, according to Toronto Public Health – many schools will also have less than half of the students attending in-person classes; Firgrove Public School is at 41 percent of in-person enrollment, Driftwood at 42, Sheppard at 43, while Brookview Middle School is at 46 percent.
In-person enrollment is highest at high schools in Scarborough, including Agincourt Collegiate (69%), Norman Bethune Collegiate (63), Birchmount Park Collegiate (61) and Lester B. Pearson (58). But in the northwest of the city, some high schools also have low enrollment rates for in-person learning. At Westview Centennial, only 47 percent of students choose the in-person option. In York Humber, the number is 45%. (At Downsview Secondary, the proportion is higher, with 56% of students opting for in-person learning.)
TDSB President Alexander Brown also believes the drop in in-person registrations is likely due to the harsher effect the pandemic has had in parts of the city.
“I think in some of these areas, which have been hit hardest by COVID, parents just didn’t want to take the risk,” Brown said, adding that many parents he spoke to had also expressed frustration. as to the lack of clarity on what was online. and in-person experiences will be alike.
Without a clearer idea of what each flow will look like, some have been reluctant to commit to either option, Brown said.
“People are worried. People are angry. They just want to know what’s going on, ”Brown said, adding that the frustration was also felt by board staff, teachers and principals.
Even the overall in-person attendance rate of 63 percent is an indictment of the provincial government’s plans to reopen schools, argued Charles Pascal, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
“The Minister and the Prime Minister said they wanted the children to be in the classrooms. But it shows that their plan hasn’t given parents the assurance that their children will be safe. … They created the worst-case scenario, ”said Pascal, who also served as special adviser on early childhood education to former premier Dalton McGuinty between 2007 and 2009.
A spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has defended the government’s plan to reopen schools, saying the province has invested $ 900 million. This includes making the TDSB a “designated board,” which allows it to offer better support to schools in areas hardest hit by COVID, Caitlin Clark said.
“In these same communities, supported by provincial and council funding, class sizes have been reduced, coupled with safety improvements like more cleaning staff, public health nurses and testing and testing. rigorous testing, ”Clark said.
At the other end of the scale, many of the schools with the highest in-person enrollments are alternative public schools, such as Delta, Horizon, and Spectrum, all of which are above 90 percent. Nor is it a coincidence, ETT’s Brown said.
“There are smaller, more distant classes in a lot of alternative schools,” Brown said.