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Mandatory but Optional E-Learning Opt-Out—“Coming Soon”

In 2021, the Ford government altered the Education Act and mandated that two of the 30 credits required for an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) need to be obtained through online learning—down from an initial proposal to make it compulsory that students take four out of 30 high school courses online. After opposition from students and families, the government moved to allow them to choose to opt out of this requirement.

Thanks to the backlash and advocacy from union members, academic experts, parents, and other education stakeholders, the Ford government made e-learning mandatory but optional. Like much of the PC government’s education policy, this provision is as clear as mud.

On March 3, 2021, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that Ontario will introduce a “policy to give parents the ability to opt their children out of the mandatory online courses required for graduation.”

To date, the government has provided no further guidance, memos or details to students, families, teachers and education workers or their representative unions, about the “opt-out” process.

With respect to e-learning, OSSTF/FEESO and other affiliates have repeatedly made inquiries about the e-learning opt-out plan. Despite our attempts to have ministry officials appreciate the urgency of the situation, course selections for the 2022–2023 school year are well underway, no information has been shared.

The Ministry has indicated that a Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) is forthcoming. However at this time, there is no information available regarding timelines for the PPM. With course selections for next school year just around the corner, students and their families as well as schools, are left not knowing how to proceed.

OSSTF/FEESO stands against the mandatory online credits requirement for graduation and believes that it is unreasonable and unfair to burden parents and students with opting out. Families who aren’t aware of their ability to choose, or who face social or linguistic barriers accessing school information, including some newcomers, are most likely to be negatively impacted by this cumbersome and unnecessary process.

Mandating e-learning also represents a potentially devastating cut to publicly-funded education and is just another example of an attack on Ontario’s social services. It places an unnecessary burden on students, all the while paving the way for privatization of publicly-funded education, as companies eager to cash in on online learning services and portals line up at the ready.

In-person courses are funded at a ratio of 23:1 (i.e. for every 23 students, a board funds one teacher), whereas e-learning courses are funded at a 30:1 ratio. This decrease in funding will also reduce the amount of education worker funding available to provide resources that students rely on for academic success and social/emotional support.

If awareness of opting out fades over time, then these online courses become normalized and commonplace in practice. In essence, e-learning will become yet another way for the Ford government to undermine and cut funding to publicly-funded education in Ontario.

Were it not for the collective job action of OSSTF/FEESO members, other affiliates job action, and stakeholder advocacy in 2020–2021, the Ford government would not have moved off their initial proposal to make it compulsory that students take four out of 30 high school courses online.

Emergency pandemic pedagogy has made it crystal clear that in-person learning is the preferred method of instruction, even the Premier, the Minister of Education and various medical experts agree. The Premier stated in a January 9, 2022 press conference that “I know online learning isn’t ideal”, yet the plan continues to force students to complete online credits for graduation. This is why OSSTF/FEESO will continue to advocate for an opt-in not an opt-out process.

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