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Feb. 11 is earliest date London, Ont., area students will return to school

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

The directors of education for Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board are both confirming that the earliest local students will return to in-person classes is Feb. 11.

Students have been learning remotely since classes resumed following the Christmas break in an effort to stamp out COVID-19 transmission. In-person lessons were originally expected to resume on Jan. 25.

Read more: Schools in just 7 southern Ontario regions to open in-person Monday, rest stay online

TVDSB director of education Mark Fisher told Global News that he learned about Wednesday’s announcement — that students living within the jurisdictions of seven public health units in Ontario would not be returning to class Jan. 25 via Twitter.

“We were able to get confirmation later in the evening from the ministry that, in fact, students in Thames Valley District School Board would not be returning to in-person learning until at least February the 11,” he said.

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Directors are hoping that at some point in the first week of February they will find out whether or not remote learning will continue beyond Feb 11.

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Director of education Linda Staudt says the LDCSB has been told that remote learning will continue “until this stay-at-home emergency order is no longer in effect.” The stay-at-home order was launched Jan. 14 and is to remain in effect for at least 28 days as part of Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s our hope that sometime in that first week of February, we would find out if, in fact, we can go back,” Staudt told Global News.

“We’re able to do the pivot relatively quickly, just once we know what the what the date is.”

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She added that the LDCSB uses SchoolMessenger to alert families directly via their preferred mode of communication.

“For example, yesterday, as soon as we heard what the implications were for us, then every single family in our board would have received a message from us in terms of what the news was.”

Click to play video '7 school boards in southern Ontario re-opening for in-class learning' 7 school boards in southern Ontario re-opening for in-class learning
7 school boards in southern Ontario re-opening for in-class learning – Jan 21, 2021

Fisher and Staudt both acknowledged that remote learning has its challenges, but that a lot of effort has been put in to improve the experience.

“We know that this is extremely difficult for families, especially for families where there are many children in the household and they’re all trying to engage in the learning,” Staudt said.

“And we know that especially for the younger ones, it means that they need some assistance from an adult in the household. So we know that this has been a time of stress. What we do know also is that our teachers are working directly with the families and they are they’re doing all they can to operate in this new environment for many of the families.”

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Read more: Toronto’s SickKids hospital report urges more masking, distancing for schools planning to reopen

The Thames Valley board recently conducted a survey that Fisher says yielded positive feedback.

“Students are very comfortable with the technology. Teachers are becoming more comfortable with the digital platforms. The level of engagement is high,” he says.

“We know there are some challenges around that social piece and the wellness piece. We’re starting to do things like virtual field trips and virtual book clubs to keep kids connected. But we recognize this is a really challenging time for our entire community.”

He added that the public board has distributed more than 10,000 devices “over the last couple of weeks” and that well-being kits have been distributed to all schools.

“I would say the quality of the online learning and the remote learning experience today versus last March has come leaps and bounds.”

Read more: Ontario special education teachers raise safety concerns as classes resume amid COVID-19 pandemic

While the majority of students are learning remotely, students with special education needs who are unable to participate in remote learning have been back in schools.

Fisher says roughly 1,100 students are attending in-person school within the public board while Staudt estimated the number at 300 in the Catholic board.

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–With files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca