Does my child have to go to school during COVID-19?

The law says that every child in Ontario must attend school from age 6 to 18. The COVID-19 pandemic doesn't change this. It's still the law for the 2020-2021 school year.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, schools only offered in-class learning. This means to attend school your child had to go to the school building.

But this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, your child has to choose between in-class and remote learning. Remote learning means your child accesses their learning materials and classes online.

If you don't like either of these options, you can choose to homeschool your child instead.

Learning options during the COVID-19 pandemic

Your child's learning options depend on whether they're in elementary school, which is Kindergarten to Grade 8, or secondary or high school, which is Grades 9 to 12.

In-class learning option

If you choose in-class learning for your elementary school child, your child will attend school 5 days a week, with 5 hours of teaching each day. Students in each class will remain together for the full day, including recess and lunch. Students who need extra support may be able to leave their classes to get support.

If you choose in-class learning for your high school child, your child will attend in-person classes or adapted in-person classes. Adapted in-person classes mean that your child will have traditional in-person classes every second or alternate day, and on the other days they will have live online classes plus independent work at home. For adapted in-person classes, there will be about 15 students per class.

The government of Ontario has a list that says which school boards will offer adapted in-class teaching and which ones will offer in-class teaching only.

Remote learning option

Each school board can offer remote learning in different ways. But there are certain things every school board must do if your child chooses remote learning. For example, they must:

  • Take daily attendance to make sure your child's attending school online.
  • Give your child access to online learning materials using online tools such as Brightspace or Google Classroom.
  • Give your child a daily schedule of subjects or courses for a total of 5 hours per day.
  • Allow your child to take part in both live online sessions and offline learning activities.
  • Make sure your child has frequent live session contact with a teacher.
  • Check with you to make sure your child has access to the internet at home and to a device they can use for online learning. If your child doesn't have access to the internet or a device, the school board should work with you to figure out a solution. There's no guarantee that a school board will give your child a device to use.

Fully independent online courses

If your child is in high school, the school board can allow them to register for fully independent online courses. These courses are offered through the Independent Learning Centre (ILC).

If your child wants to take an ILC course, they must ask their school board for permission. The fee is typically $250 per credit. But if the school board approves the ILC course, the school board will pay the fee for you.

The school board should approve any reasonable request your child makes to take an ILC course. The school board should also make sure your child has access to a guidance counsellor. The guidance counsellor can make sure that the ILC courses are the right choice for your child.

Special education for remote learners

If the school gave your child special education accommodation before COVID-19, then they should continue to do this if you choose remote learning.

If you're not sure if your child has special needs, ask your child's school if your child had an Individual Education Plan (IEP). If the school felt your child has special needs, they create an IEP for them. You're allowed to get a copy of the plan.

Your child's IEP tells you what special education accommodations the school is supposed to give your child.

Most schools have never before given special education accommodations for remote learners. You should work together with your child's teachers and school administrators to figure out the best ways to accommodate your child while they're remote learning.

Special education needs are also called “exceptionalities”.

Most exceptionalities or special needs are also considered disabilities under the Human Rights Code. This means that if a school isn't properly accommodating your child's special needs, you can make a discrimination complaint against the school to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Switching between remote learning and in-classes

The school board must allow you to switch your child between remote learning and in-person classes if you change your mind during the school year. Each school board can do this differently. Some school boards are planning to allow students to switch only at certain times during the school year.

For example, the Toronto District School Board is allowing elementary students to switch after progress reports come out, and again at the end of each term. They're allowing high school students to switch at the end of each quadmester.

Other things to consider

The choice between in-class and remote learning is very personal. For most people, this is a practical choice and not a legal one. Some of the things you may want to consider before deciding include:

  • your child's views and wishes about in-person classes versus remote learning
  • your child's mental and physical health
  • the mental and physical health of people in your home or social groups
  • how comfortable your child is with following their school's health rules such as wearing a mask and social distancing
  • your child's learning needs and their comfort with online learning
  • whether your family can support your child at home if they're attending school remotely
  • how often your child will get to interact with other children if they're attending school remotely
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