Canada’s largest school board considers eliminating French as it plans for safe return in fall

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The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says it is preparing for new possibilities when school returns in September that may include no French classes and shortened school days.

In a new planning document being considered by the board, the TDSB also says that accommodating some proposed plans for the fall could cost as much as $250 million.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce outlined the province’s plan for students’ return to school in September last month.

He laid out three different models of instruction that boards should prepare for:

  • Full-time in-class teaching with COVID-19 prevention measures in place.
  • Full-time remote learning. 
  • A hybrid that would see half the school population in class each day and half learning online at home.

The TDSB is meeting on July 15 to hold preliminary discussions about what these scenarios could mean for the board and how much they might cost. 

The board said if they were to follow the hybrid model it “will force parents to choose between educating their children and their own employment.”

In a new planning document being considered by the board, the TDSB said their reports show if they were to group all elementary students into sets of 15 with one teacher, that scenario would require them to hire nearly 2,500 additional teachers at a cost of $249 million.

If the TDSB were to end the school day 48 minutes early that would reduce the cost to $99 million.

But in this scenario, the board said there would not be enough teachers to offer core French language instruction to all students.

Canada's largest school board considers eliminating French as it plans for safe return in fall
The Board says final plans will be developed and submitted to the Ministry of Education on August 4 in accordance with Toronto Public Health. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The board also said any unused space throughout schools would be needed to accommodate students in this type of setting with smaller class sizes.

However, even if the TDSB were to only hold classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 with 15 students and the rest of classes set at 20 kids, the Board said French classes would still be unavailable.

They would also need to hire 1,900 new teachers, which would cost $190 million.

If students were dismissed 48 minutes early each day, they would still need 200 new teachers at a cost of $20 million.

Safety most important for board and province

Both the provincial government and the school board have said safety is the most important thing to consider for any kind of return to school.

The board said the price of purchasing PPE and other pandemic related costs in returning to a regular pre-pandemic school day will cost the TDSB more than $22 million for the first four months of the school year. 

TDSB said the Ministry of Education has not provided enough funding to even cover this shortfall.

“We have been actively planning for our return considering all possibilities ensuring that student and staff well-being and safety is the priority,” the board said.

The school board has formed an Integrated Return to School and Work Steering Committee and several sub-committees to plan and prepare for September.

The TDSB said they are also working with communities, including unions and federation partners, staff, parents/guardians and students.

The board said final plans will be developed and submitted to the Ministry of Education on August 4 in accordance with Toronto Public Health. 

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