WRDSB Schools are Prepared for Possible Full Distance Learning, Staff Say

WCI students line up to enter the building in the morning. Photo by Emrehan Kilic.

Some WRDSB staff believe that the school board is prepared for possible school closures due to rising numbers of cases of COVID-19.

As cases of COVID-19 increase in schools, Waterloo Public Health has said they would consider individual school shutdowns if there is a significant increase in the number of cases in a specific school. 

Schools that are closed will need to provide online education to their students as they did in the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year.

Online education became an important part of the school systems in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, WRDSB experienced its first fully online education system, starting in March, and it was mainly a self-study based system for the students, dubbed “emergency distance learning.” 

This year, WRDSB is using a “hybrid model” in secondary schools, where students are divided into cohorts, attending school on an alternating five day schedule, switching between virtual and in-person learning. Students who elected to stay at home are enrolled in the “full distance learning” program where they are getting full-time online education at their homes.

It is the fifth week of “hybrid learning,” and as of October 9th, Public Health has confirmed 22 cases for schools in Waterloo Region, including three staff and 19 students. Also, Waterloo Public Health has reported an increasing trend in the number of cases in the region, which might be a sign of a second wave.

WCI’s sign at the front of the school annouces which cohort should be attending in person. Photo by Emrehan Kilic.

These numbers show that WRDSB schools have the possibility of closure, and they need to be prepared for that.

Jane Mitchinson, an Information Technologies consultant for Secondary Schools at WRDSB said, “Our Board is better prepared than most because every student at the secondary level receives a Chromebook. This provides more equitable access to technology, and it’s why we were able to transition online in April as soon as we got the go-ahead.”

Andrew Bieronski, who is a Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching (TELT) consultant with WRDSB said, “Our staff, educators and students are far more prepared now if that transition [to full online learning] is needed than we were in March. We have many students and teachers right now who are having very positive experiences with our current Distance Learning program, which shows it can be a success overall.”

Chromebooks seem to have a big impact on WRDSB’s success on online learning. Both Bieronski and Mitchinson believe that the 1:1 Chromebook initiative for students will be the key factor of success for WRDSB schools in the case of specific schools being shutdown or, for that matter, specific classes being sent home.

A classroom at WCI during lunch. Photo by Emrehan Kilic.

As more cases of COVID-19 are found in schools, some students are electing to stay home full time: a transition has started from hybrid education to the full distance learning program.

The head of WCI’s Guidance department, Ms. Cowburn, said, “The majority of the students are at the school. We have a couple of hundred students that are in the distance learning program. As cases have gone up since the start of school, everyday we have had a couple of inquiries about switching to the full distance learning model.” 

As long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there can always be a possibility of a school’s shutdown. However, in that case, the fully online learning experience may be better for WRDSB students than it was in the spring, with the help of the preexisting 1:1 Chromebook initiative and teachers’ increasing comfort with this format.