Parents, students, teachers call for end to ‘hybrid’ classes in Toronto public schools

Parents, students and teachers rallied outside Toronto District School Board headquarters on Tuesday to demand an end to “hybrid” classes in Toronto public schools.

The rally-goers, many of whom held up signs that read: “No Hybrid,” said hybrid learning compromises the quality of education that students receive and it means the attention of teachers is divided.

In hybrid classes, which were brought in to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are forced to offer instruction both in-person and on-screen at the same time. The TDSB calls this schooling model “simultaneous learning” and says it’s mainly in its secondary schools and rarely in its elementary schools this academic year.

“It’s not an appropriate way of teaching our children. No one wins with this hybrid simultaneous learning,” Nigel Barriffe, executive officer at the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said before the rally.

According to the rally-goers, the teacher’s attention is split between those in class and those at home, and consequently, both groups of students do not receive the support they need. The rally-goers said they want online classes to be held separately from in-person classes because students deserve dedicated teachers.

Teachers told reporters the Ontario government should be funding public education properly during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure students get good quality education.

Barriffe, also a member of Ontario Education Workers United, which organized the rally, said the TDSB is allowing hybrid classes for elementary school children in special education, the most vulnerable children in the public school system. 

“This isn’t good for anybody,” he said. “We’re here to say: ‘No, enough, we cannot do this anymore.'”

In-class learning and remote learning require different teaching styles, he said, adding that hybrid classes raise privacy, safety and equity issues.

The demonstrators say hybrid learning doesn’t work for students or teachers because it compromises the quality of education that students receive and it means the attention of teachers is divided. (CBC)

Beyhan Farhadi, a post-doctoral researcher in the education faculty at York University who studies online learning, inequality and education policy, said hybrid schooling is an “emergency model of learning” that has been used mainly in graduate programs.

Farhadi, who also spoke at the rally, said hybrid learning is rarely implemented in kindergarten to Grade 8 because its impact is more severe on younger learners. 

“It is a model that in kindergarten to Grade 12 has been quite disastrous. That is the only word I can think of, both in the United States and in Ontario,” she said.

“We know that good practice in the classroom requires the movement of the teacher around the room and requires engagement that is not just talking at students. When you incorporate a computer, where the teacher is required to also pay attention to a class in a completely different space online, they are really limited in terms of how they can teach. There is often technological difficulties.”

Teachers suffer emotional wear and tear, parents can get frustrated if they cannot get the attention of the teacher, who is busy talking to students, and students are shortchanged, she said.

“I am worried that there are students getting an uneven education in the province.”

Beyhan Farhadi, a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Education at York University, says: ‘It is a model that in kindergarten to Grade 12 has been quite disastrous.’ (CBC)

Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB, said in an email on Tuesday that the board decided in the spring to organize classes as close to local schools as possible. He said the approach was important to promote connection with school staff and other students after five to 18 months of being apart. Parents were given the opportunity to select either virtual or in-person learning on or before Aug. 16, 2021, he added. 

“The TDSB is not implementing simultaneous learning in elementary schools with the exception of a very limited number of circumstances where it’s needed to ensure students with the greatest learning needs remain connected to the staff and students with whom they are familiar and can access the complete range of care to which they are entitled,” Bird said in the email.

“At the secondary level, simultaneous learning is taking place, where needed, to preserve access to a range of courses for students studying online or in-person and to avoid a full re-timetabling of schools resulting in course changes for most secondary students.”

Bird said the TDSB created fully virtual classes where feasible.

“Adopting an alternative model after the selection forms were received would have resulted in a delayed start and added further anxiety for many students at the start the second school year in a pandemic.”

The Toronto District School Board says of its hybrid classes: ‘Adopting an alternative model after the selection forms were received would have resulted in a delayed start and added further anxiety for many students at the start the second school year in a pandemic.’ (CBC)

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), for its part, said the TDSB could have made different choices.  

“Hybrid learning puts the burden of responding to COVID fully on the backs of students and education workers alone, with a model that serves neither the learners in class nor those at home. This model of learning is pedagogically unsound and inequitable,” the OSSTF said in a statement.

“The TDSB could have chosen to implement virtual-only options, but instead they chose the easier and cheaper course of action. “

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