Illustration by: Akshaya Varakunan

The Toronto District School Board was not at all prepared for what was coming alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. The board, with 247 000 students on the line, has failed to provide an acceptable system regarding all aspects of online school [1].

The TDSB had the full summer break to prepare for the new hybrid school system, not to mention the several months in hiatus after the pandemic hit. They were well aware that the pandemic would force hundreds of thousands of students to move to the online school platform. Yet with that knowledge in mind, there was still an incredible lack of foresight and effort put into this matter, leaving students and parents all across the board confused and frustrated. This school year, 18 000 high school students initially chose the virtual learning format, and hundreds more are still trying to transfer from in-person to virtual school [2]. Considering just how many families have chosen the virtual format and the foresight that many would go online when the second wave hit as predicted, it was expected of the board to provide students with, at the very least, an acceptable platform with proper teaching, working apps, and accommodations to specialized programs like art programs, International Baccalaureate, TOPS, etc. How many of those expectations were fulfilled? None, and it’s laughable.

So, the TDSB has failed to provide students with a working virtual platform. They scrambled to get enough teachers, disregarded specialized programs, and failed to organize required systems, such as how teachers would communicate with their students. What else have they done? Did it occur to them that students would need technology to engage in such virtual platforms? The shortsighted fact is that the TDSB had the funds to distribute laptops and set them up. The TDSB gave out over $2 million of raises to principals for doing extra work during the summer [3], yet almost 2 000 students are currently still waiting to receive laptops and tablets for virtual learning [4]. The budget of the TDSB for this school year is $3.4 billion, and while around $3.2 is used to pay for salaries [5], there are approximately $200 million left. The Dell Chromebook 3189, which is widely suited for school, costs $330 [6]. Multiply that by 2 000 students, and only $660 000 are needed, a small percentage of the total budget that is key to keeping schools safe. Instead of the 2 million dollars in raises to principals, they could have used $660 000 of it so that students can learn safely at home.

After all this chaos, one might think that they’d take the blame upon themselves and work to create a better system. After not being able to take the burden of managing students in the virtual school (lack of teachers, not enough resources, too many students, etc.) the board forced the load onto the individual schools themselves to accommodate students wanting to switch to virtual school. So on top of complicating things for students, parents, and teachers, they revoked their plan of action and brought it onto those struggling principals and teachers, who had to quickly organize everything in the school to accommodate these learners. 

The TDSB’s excuse was that the centralized virtual school system wasn’t able to handle these students. As a school board, it is your responsibility to adapt your system to the number of students. It is your responsibility to make sure students are provided with an education. And it is your responsibility to provide resources and planned strategies so that students are able to learn. While one may argue that it is part of a school’s responsibility to accommodate students’ needs, it is the TDSB’s duty to provide sufficient resources and work with individual schools to formulate plans in order to acclimatize to all these students. The TDSB “is telling brick and mortar principals they’ll have to determine how to accommodate students wishing to switch to online learning” [2], meaning they provided little to no guidance for schools and left them to determine for themselves how to help these students.

What did we expect coming into this strange school year? A perfect fully functioning utterly faultless school system? Certainly not. But we expected the very least anyone could expect from a school board: we expected to be cared for, our problems heard, and a working virtual system that would allow students to work effectively. We expected the very least from the TDSB. We set our standard on the ground. The board dug a hole. 

[1] https://www.tdsb.on.ca/About-Us#:~:text=The%20Toronto%20District%20School%20Board%20is%20the%20largest%20school%20board,approximately%20247%2C000%20students%20each%20year.&text=There%20are%20over%20120%20languages%20spoken%20by%20TDSB%20students%20and%20their%20families.

[2] https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/10/19/tdsb-scrambles-to-accomodate-virtual-learners-as-expanding-online-school-becomes-untenable.html 

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/tdsb-spend-two-million-bonuses-principals-vice-principals-1.5784959 

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/tdsb-students-devices-for-remote-learning-1.5766694 

[5] https://www.tdsb.on.ca/About-Us/Business-Services/Budgets-and-Financial-Statements/2019-20-Budget#:~:text=2019%2D20%20Budget%20Process,these%20resources%20responsibly%20and%20effectively.

[6] https://www.dell.com/en-ca/shop/dell-laptops-netbooks-and-tablets/chromebook-3189-2-in-1/spd/chromebook-11-3189-2-in-1-laptop