Canada’s largest school board wants to centralize remote learning in a ‘virtual school’
Canada’s largest school board says it intends to provide remote learning this fall through a centralized “virtual school” rather than from students’ individual neighbourhood schools, prompting concerns that children out of class since March will be further isolated. The proposal was presented and discussed at a general meeting of the Toronto District School Board on Tuesday. The board is scheduled to meet again Thursday to finalize its plan, and it will have to be approved by the Ministry of Education.
Alexander Brown, TDSB chair and trustee for Willowdale, said the decision was based on an assessment of the board’s available resources as it looks to reduce elementary school class sizes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to school in September. Arranging for remote learning classes carried out by the board’s nearly 600 elementary and high schools became untenable, Brown told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning in Toronto. “We just do not have enough resources to provide that on an individual school basis. So really it comes down to, ‘What are the resources we have and how far do they go?’ They don’t really go far enough,” he said.
According to the plan, the “virtual school” will be staffed by a TDSB superintendent as well as principals, vice-principals, teachers and guidance counsellors. Teachers who chose not to return to in-person classes for medical reasons will also be asked by the board to be redeployed to the virtual school. With elementary teachers in class full time under the provincial government’s back-to-school guidelines, it is impossible for them to then provide multiple hours of online instruction to students who have chosen remote learning, the board said.
Anna Penner, a parent of three young children who lives in Toronto’s Woodbine-Danforth neighbourhood, said a centralized school only serves to make the option of remote learning even less appealing for her family. Penner said her eldest child, who is 6½ years old, already struggled with online classes when Ontario shut public schools in mid-March as the COVID-19 outbreak in the province ramped up. “It’s a disconnect from her friends and from her community that have already been taken away since March. So to say now you’re going back to school and now your school is on a computer and now there aren’t going to be any of the kids or teachers or administrators that you know and love — that’s not a plan,” Penner said.
A survey sent to families by the board earlier this month found that 29 per cent of elementary students, or 35,389 children, would opt for remote learning instead of returning to school for in-person classes. That figure dropped to 23 per cent if the board could ensure smaller class sizes of 15 to 20 — something it has said is a priority as it prepares for the scheduled first day of the academic year on Sept. 8. The board has indicated it intends to resurvey parents about the decision in the coming days, after one of three potential back-to-school plans presented at Tuesday’s meeting has been finalized and approved by the Ministry of Education.
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Manitoba unveils colour-coded COVID-19 tool to allow targeted restrictions
Manitoba unveiled a new colour-coded system Wednesday that will allow the government to roll out COVID-19 restrictions targeting specific regions, communities or industries in the province. The new system has four risk levels, with each triggering possible measures that public health officials can take to limit spread of the coronavirus. “This will provide Manitobans with clear, detailed and localized information about the risks, the responses and the recommended actions that we can all take to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Premier Brian Pallister said.
Using the colours green, yellow, orange and red, the system lays out a range of responses broken down by sectors, such as schools, restaurants, child-care centres and community gatherings. With this new system, the province hopes to focus restrictions on specific areas or sectors, rather than rolling them out across the province and impacting the broader economy. “We need to find a way to live with this virus without requiring widespread shutdowns,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer.
Cases of the disease caused by the new coronavirus have increased sharply over the last month, with rising numbers of infections in multiple communities across Manitoba, including a cluster of more than 60 cases in Brandon. The new system builds on efforts by the provincial government to make its response to the pandemic more focused and tailored to local conditions. Manitoba as a whole is currently under the yellow “caution” risk level, and information about current risk levels and restrictions will be available on the province’s website. Higher risk levels are either in effect, or being considered, in some areas within the province.
Quebec is still not publishing race-based COVID-19 data, so these community groups aim to fill the void
Frustrated by the Quebec government’s refusal to collect race-based COVID-19 data, a Montreal entrepreneur and three community groups have decided to take matters into their own hands. Thierry Lindor launched a new online platform, dubbed Colors of Covid, in hopes of demonstrating how Black and Indigenous communities, as well as people of colour, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Quebec and across Canada. The website will offer a voluntary and anonymous survey.
The Federation of Black Canadians, Hoodstock and the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association (CDNBCA) have joined forces with Lindor for the project. Lindor himself lost several loved ones to COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. He feels that others could be spared that same suffering if the Quebec and Canadian governments had a better understanding of the statistics and could target resources to certain neighbourhoods and communities. The Quebec government has not published any race-based data so far.
Back in June, analysis by CBC News found Montreal’s most racially diverse neighbourhoods were hardest-hit by the pandemic. “For us, it was really a question of providing a tool that we feel the government should have been doing for years and should have had the foresight to put in place,” said Lindor. “When the government doesn’t act the people should act.” The City of Toronto’s decision to release COVID-19 data last month also encouraged Lindor to launch this new website. Data collected by Colors of Covid focuses not only on novel coronavirus infection among Black and Indigenous people, and people of colour, but also on some of the collateral damage inflicted. It collects data, for instance, on food insecurity and job losses, as well as on the state of people’s mental health.
Pope Francis hopes for equal access to vaccine as WHO works to ensure it happens
Pope Francis warned against any prospect that rich people would get priority for a coronavirus vaccine. “It would be sad if the rich are given priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. It would be sad if the vaccine becomes property of this or that nation, if it is not universal and for everyone,” Francis said today. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pope said, the world can’t return to normal if normal means social injustice and degradation of the natural environment.
Francis has dedicated much of his papacy to highlighting the plight of those living on life’s margins, saying societies must put them at the centre of their attention. Throughout the pandemic, many poor, who often have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, have found themselves less able to shelter from possible contagion during stay-at-home guidelines enacted by many countries to reduce the contagion rate. Access to the best health care for the poor is often impossible in many parts of the world.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization urged countries to join a global pact aimed at ensuring less-wealthy countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines, warning about the risks of so-called “vaccine nationalism.” The COVAX global vaccines facility is a program designed to pool funds from wealthier countries and non-profits to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it equitably around the world. Its aim is to deliver two billion doses of effective, approved vaccines by the end of 2021. The details of the program are still being hashed out ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for countries to join.
As schools reopen in Canada, how do you test for kids who are asymptomatic?
With just weeks to go until schools reopen across Canada, one uncertainty that remains is how effectively children can spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 to others — even when they don’t show symptoms. “It’s now clear the idea that children don’t often get infected and don’t transmit the virus is mistaken,” said University of Western Australia epidemiologist Zoe Hyde. “We know that children can transmit the virus, but we don’t yet know whether they can transmit as effectively as adults.”
While Canada has had fewer than 10,000 COVID-19 cases in those under the age of 19, including only one case where a child with COVID-19 has died, experts say schools are uncharted territory because they have remained closed in much of the country during the pandemic. Hyde argued in a new preprint article in the Medical Journal of Australia, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, that while evidence shows children generally have a less severe illness from the virus, it’s wrong to assume they play a smaller role in spreading it.
Canada’s federal guidelines for returning students to school focus heavily on isolating those with symptoms but make little mention of asymptomatic transmission. They also concede COVID-19 in children is “not fully understood” and “evidence may change with time.” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto General Hospital, said despite that lack of understanding, the current back-to-school protocols in place could work to address any potential asymptomatic spread in the classroom.
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Alberta grandmother turns quilting scraps into face masks for charity
While isolating at her Barnwell, Alta., home, Carma Anderson decided to get busy making some face masks to send to family members scattered far and wide, using leftover fabric from her many quilting projects. More than 1,000 masks later, “Grandma Carma’s Masks” have been shipped to friends and family as far away as Phoenix and distributed throughout Alberta.
“I can’t believe it myself because I never thought I’d make more than 50, and I’m still enthused about making them,” Anderson, who turned 88 amid the pandemic, told CBC Radio’s The Homestretch in Calgary. Anderson said it started when she heard on the news that there was a shortage of masks. “And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re going to probably need some here,’ and I have children in the States and they’re going to need them.”
Anderson found a pattern online and set to work on the folded cotton masks, which take about 35 minutes each to make. She sells the masks for $3.50 each and is donating all proceeds to charity. “Any charity that I feel like could use it, or food bank or whatever,” she said. At first, Anderson didn’t want to charge anything, but as word got out, more and more people made requests, and others donated fabric. “I did a lot of quilting, I still do a lot of quilting, so I had lots of scraps of fabric,” she said.
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