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Years after pandemic began, some still attending virtual school

Not all Sudbury school boards offering virtual programming for the 2023-24 school year, and attendance low for those that are

Greater Sudbury elementary and secondary school students attending classes virtually are getting pretty rare at this point, but they do still exist.

It has been more than three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, throwing Ontario students into an on-again, off-again emergency virtual schooling situation. 

Following the pandemic's onset, some families chose to enrol their children into fully virtual schooling, which Ontario school boards were required to provide.

But for the 2023-24 school year, Ontario school boards were given the option of whether or not they would continue to provide remote schooling.

Only two of four school boards operating in the Greater Sudbury area say they are offering virtual school at all this school year.

The Rainbow District School Board said it has 78 students attending classes virtually this year, 35 at the elementary level and 45 at the secondary level. For context, the Rainbow board had a total enrolment of 13,996 students as of the first day of school.

Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario said it has just four students enrolled in virtual learning for this school year, all at the elementary level. The virtual learning is being offered in partnership with another school board, Conseil scolaire Viamonde.

The other two school boards operating in the Greater Sudbury area, Sudbury Catholic District School Board and Conseil scolaire catholique Nouvelon, say they are not offering virtual schooling this year.

Secondary students in Ontario — whether they’re learning virtually or primarily in-person — are, however, able to take advantage of e-learning courses offered to students across the province in both English and French. This is distinct from virtual schooling offered directly by local school boards.

The Rainbow board said its virtual secondary offerings are a mix of the aforementioned e-learning courses and courses taught by its own teachers.

Given that the Rainbow board has by far the largest number of virtual learners locally, reached out to the board, asking to speak to a board staffer for more information about virtual learning, as well as to a family still taking part in this method of learning.

The Rainbow board said it was unable to connect us with a family “due to privacy … We respect that families have chosen this option for personal reasons,” the board said.

(If your family is still taking part in virtual learning, and you'd like to talk to, email us at [email protected]).

Despite the request for an interview with a Rainbow board staffer, the board instead chose to send us a written statement with more context about its virtual school offerings.

The Rainbow board said it is offering virtual school for one more year for students who were in the program in the last school year. Remote learning is being offered in the English program only.

Unless it is required to do so by the Ministry of Education, remote learning in the board will not continue in the 2024-2025 school year.

In 2022-2023, the Rainbow board had 87 elementary students and 87 secondary students enrolled in the remote school. (Of this number, 12 elementary students and one secondary student were in French Immersion. The board said it no longer offers French Immersion through the Virtual School due to the very low enrolment.)

As stated above, there are currently 35 elementary students and 43 secondary students enrolled in remote learning. For context, this represents .5 of one percent of the Rainbow board’s overall student population.

The board said it expected the trend of remote numbers to decrease over time and that has certainly been the case in this final year.

Most families who were in the virtual school have returned to in-person learning. 

“In-person learning provides the greatest social, emotional, physical and academic benefits to learners, including participation in extracurricular sports and clubs which engage students in the full school experience,” said the statement from the Rainbow board.

“Exceptional circumstances, however, may have required families to remain in remote learning for one more year.”

In the virtual school, Rainbow District School Board teachers are providing synchronous instruction. Some subject work assigned by the board's teachers is completed asynchronously.

Synchronous learning refers to instructors and students gathering at the same time and (virtual or physical) place and interacting in “real-time.” Asynchronous learning refers to students accessing materials at their own pace and interacting with each other over longer periods. 

At this time, the Rainbow board has four elementary teachers and five secondary teachers at the virtual school.

Students are in various grades or classes. Some students are in the Intensive Support Program. Teachers are required to be creative and flexible in delivering the curriculum to multiple combined grades while meeting the needs of each learner, said the Rainbow board statement.

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.


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