Upper Canada District School Board in Brockville.

The Chair of the Upper Canada District School Board is defending the board's remote learning plan, after two teachers' unions suggest it could put kids at risk.

In an open letter over the weekend, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) said a plan to livestream classrooms to students who remain at home "raises several serious concerns" about privacy and the learning environment.

"In this model, face-to-face and virtual/remote learning will be live streamed via 2-way video and audio, so every student in the classroom and at home will be identified by name, voice, and picture. This raises serious concerns about your child’s privacy and safety on the internet," OSSTF Upper Canada Teacher Bargaining Unit President Adrienne McEwen said.

"In addition to privacy concerns, the UCDSB plan hinges on everything going right 100% of the time. Teachers are concerned about reliable bandwidth, equity in course offerings, fulfilment of IEP requirements, and the ability for remote learning students to have learning strategies that specifically enhance online learning."

On Monday, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) also issued a letter mirroring the OSSTF's concerns.

"The UCDSB has proposed one model we find hugely problematic – that of live-streaming your child’s classroom. I suspect financial constraints had much to do with them offering this, but I want to now implore you to reject outright this option as it is seriously flawed," said ETFO Upper Canada Local President Erin Blair.

"There is a potential for inappropriate use of the video streaming. As you know from the Internet age, once you send something out over the Internet you have lost control of it," Blair added. "Video images, as we have seen on news broadcasts, do not always provide the context of what happens. Interactions can occur that would be broadcasted and not taken in context. This could be unfair to anyone in the classroom."

Both unions are urging parents to reject the plan and tell the board they do not give permission for their child's face and voice be broadcast via livestream.

UCDSB Chair John McAllister said in an open letter sent Monday afternoon that the messages from the unions was misleading.

"Their communication featured misleading and inaccurate information about how we are approaching program delivery for remote learning that fully attends to district guidelines for privacy and security in virtual environments," McAllister said.

THREE DIFFERENT PLANS

The plan at issue is just one of three remote learning plans offered by the UCDSB.

In a letter to parents dated Aug. 27, the board said it also offers two kinds of remote asynchronous learning, digital and non-digital.

The asynchronous digital learning plan involves digital access to a teacher by appointment during select times, with instruction and support from staff on assignment with the UCDSB Virtual School.

The non-digital option involves printed workbooks that students complete and return to teacher. District staff with the UCDSB Virtual School will still provide instruction and support.

The UCDSB says it will be following up this week with families who chose remote learning to discuss the options. The board said last week that 17 per cent of families chose remote learning.

McAllister insisted that the livestreaming plan that is being offered up would not include multiple cameras or video of any student who should not be on camera.

"The current classroom model under development by staff for remote/synchronous will be more akin to the experience of staff using their notebook computer to run the Microsoft Teams platform video conferencing app, with the options for participants to be on video or not, the ability to ask questions using the chat feature, view documents, etc," McAllister said. "Teachers will be able to place their laptop computer camera to face in the direction of their choosing. Children that cannot be videoed would not be."

NO COMMENT ON BANDWIDTH

One of the other issues raised by the ETFO is the amount of bandwidth live streaming every classroom would require, and the burden that would put on schools.

"On a practical level, school bandwidth could be insufficient to have live streaming from every classroom. What would be the consequence for individual students at school wanting to access the Internet with bandwidth taken up by livestreaming? Classes are encouraged to go outside – how would that then work?" Blair said.

McAllister did not address that issue in his letter Monday.