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School board pens open letter to MPPs objecting to remote learning model

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Limestone District School Board’s board of trustees have voiced their concern regarding a reported proposal from the provincial government that considers allowing online and remote learning to become a permanent feature of the Ontario public education system.

The chair of the board of trustees, Suzanne Ruttan, sent a letter on behalf of the board to local MPPs Ian Arthur, Daryl Kramp and Randy Hillier to express the concerns of the board regarding the proposed policy changes.

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According to a Ministry of Education presentation obtained by the Globe and Mail in March, the Ontario government is considering making online education a permanent offering in the public education system, giving parents the option of enrolling students in remote programming post-COVID.

In the letters sent by the board on April 30, Limestone District School Board, along with the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA), is concerned “with the contents of this reported proposal and potential legislation, especially since it comes at a time when our province continues to struggle with the pandemic and plans for the return to school this September are unclear.”

According to the letter, the proposed changes will have significant implications for the public education system, including reducing support for in-school learning, unnecessary additional expenses for programming that will fail to effectively meet local needs and even “closed or diminished schools.”

These concerns were echoed by Town of Greater Napanee School Board trustee, and former OPSBA president, Laurie French, who explained that the school board is concerned that the proposed programming changes will limit the board’s resources and ability to provide adequate courses that meet the needs and preferences of students.

“By transferring these resources, that dilutes the board’s resources and ability to deliver these programs, and that leads to multiple problems. Not only duplication of work that’s already happening with experts in our local boards, but it really, really affects the ability for planning and delivery on a local level,” French said in an interview with the Whig-Standard.

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In the context of the pandemic, French explained that while some students have thrived in remote learning environments, “some students have been very disadvantaged because access to online learning is not equitable in this province.”

According to French, there has been widespread concern among parents and students in the board. Limestone’s Parent Involvement Committee has submitted a letter to the province articulating its concerns, and the Ontario Student Trustee’s Association, the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association have all issued statements expressing concern over the proposed changes.

According to French, these expressions of concern are important at this point as “it’s important for us to be articulate about what the concerns are, and provide that well in advance while the ministry is considering this and be very clear about the risks and the concerns that we have.”

Ultimately, French is hoping that, moving forward, the Ministry of Education will work with school boards and local educators to expand online learning and that the priority remains the quality of education for students.

“Outsourcing risks privatization and profit models in education — which is not welcome. We have established curriculum that’s delivered by very skilled educators in real time, and those educators are known to the students, and that needs to continues,” she said.

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