The Chair of the Toronto District School Board says at least 5,500 fewer students have returned to school – either in person or virtual – than expected this fall, meaning it could lose up to $40 million in provincial funding.

As of Sept. 30, the board said it had 2,700 fewer elementary school students enrolled than expected and 900 fewer secondary students.

But on Monday, TDSB Board Chair Alexander Brown said 5,500 kids have not returned to school, 4,700 elementary students and roughly 780 high school students.

“We haven’t lost them – we just have to determine why they haven’t come back to school,” Brown told CTV News Toronto. “Well I am sure they are staying home – and there’s the possibility they’ve gone to private schools.”

The unaccounted-for pupils will impact the board’s budget if the issue is not reconciled with the Ford government.

“If the projected enrolments of Oct. 13 come in as planned, the financial impact to the GSN (Grant for Student Needs) will be approximately $40 million,” board trustees were told in a report released earlier this month.

The GSN is provided to school boards in the province based on enrolment.

“Our ask will be if we have fewer students in our schools as opposed to what we predicted, that we are able to keep that funding,” Brown said.

Board officials say the reduction in enrolment has nothing to do with the Sept. 30 deadline for students to switch between in-person and virtual instruction.

The shortfall is caused by students who were registered at the TDSB last school year who have not returned to school this year.

They may have moved out of the city, switched to the private system or to homeschooling.

Officials said the biggest shortfall in returning students was at the kindergarten level.

Brown said that by law, children do not have to be in school until age 6, or the first grade.

York Region District School Board also sees lower enrollment

The York Region District School Board (YRDSB) said Monday it has 2,010 fewer elementary students enrolled this year than was projected, but is teaching 228 more secondary students than it expected.

“Our staffing and finance teams are currently working through the enrolment figures to determine the financial implications of these numbers,” said YRDSB spokesperson Licinio Miguelo in an emailed statement.

Jarryd Shneer, 12, of Thornhill is no longer learning in the public system. He joined a private school to receive his Grade 7 education.

“It’s a lot better. It’s more interactive and actually fun and makes you want to do it. Whereas the other one I was bored sitting there, like when is this going to be over,” he said.

Jarryd’s mom Jennifer Shneer said he was falling behind, that his virtual classes started late and she wasn’t satisfied with the instruction.

“It was extremely frustrating. I was trying to be patient because I know this is uncharted territory for everybody, and so it was a lot of adjustments to be made but I really felt like he was missing out,” she said.

Jennifer said her son’s new online private school is ministry approved, follows the Ontario curriculum, and costs $1,000 a month. It’s an investment they’re both feeling good about.

“The maximum cap is at eight kids. He’s getting a lot of attention. A lot of information and he’s actually learning and enjoying,” she said.

Durham District School Board said that they have projected a modest increase in enrolment, but the latest numbers compared with the actual enrolment were not shared.

CTV News Toronto also requested enrolment numbers from the Peel District School Board and asked about a possible financial shortfall. The board said they could not immediately share data prior to a Monday evening deadline.