Thousands of Toronto students ditching virtual learning for 2022-23, returning to classroom

Thousands of Toronto students who have been at home learning virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic will shut off their devices and head back to the classroom next fall.

Registration figures for September 2022 at the public and Catholic school boards reveal students plan to return in droves to in-person learning.

At the Toronto District School Board there are about 17,000 elementary and 8,000 secondary students learning virtually in this 2021-2022 school year. By comparison, about 3,300 elementary and 1,500 secondary students have registered for online learning in the 2022-23 academic year.

“As we adjust to the new reality of living with COVID, I think people are more open to coming back to in-person learning,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. “There are some students who have thrived in virtual learning; however, for the most part we do know that in-person learning is the best for students.”

Neither board has hard data as to why some families are choosing virtual learning for their kids, because parents aren’t asked for a reason when they make their selection. But Bird says there are various possibilities, such as a student being immune-compromised, or having someone in their household who he is.

The number of students at the TDSB enrolled for virtual learning next fall is a far cry from what it was at the start of the pandemic. In 2020-2021 — the first academic year that virtual learning was offered — about 62,000 elementary and 18,000 secondary students participated.

Similarly, at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, there’s been a move back into the classroom. In September 2020, about 18,000 elementary students were registered for online learning. In September 2021, that figure dropped to 4,200, and now about 750 have signed up for elementary school next fall. About 260 high school students have registered for virtual learning.

TCDSB trustee Markus de Domenico suspects the return to in-person learning is largely driven by parents feeling more comfortable given the overall high vaccination rates.

“Also, parents have really seen the difficulty in children not having interpersonal relationships, being isolated, and a lot of mental and emotional health issues from being at home.”

De Domenico said he doesn’t want to discourage parents who want to keep their kids home for virtual learning next fall, saying their choice must be respected.

At both the public and Catholic boards, students will participate in fully virtual classes, with no hybrid learning. Students from across the board are combined in an online learning space, such as Zoom, Brightspace or Google Meet, where they can connect with their peers and teachers in real time. They will also do work on their own, or asynchronously.

The Ministry of Education is requiring all school boards to provide a virtual option for the next school year.


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