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Canada's largest school board says it no longer needs additional classroom spaces for elementary schools because so many parents have opted out of in-person learning.

The Toronto District School Board says there were initial concerns about the lack of space at five of its schools, but more students have since switched over to online learning.

Spokesman Ryan Bird says thousands of parents have made the switch in recent weeks as the spread of COVID-19 increases in Ontario.

He says that means those schools where there were concerns will now be able to make do by using gyms and libraries for teaching.

The board says it will continue to look for additional classroom spaces in case the need arises.

Earlier in the summer, the TDSB identified multiple Toronto neighbourhoods that were hardest-hit by the coronavirus and set out to lease learning spaces outside of schools.

However, Bird said in an email Wednesday that in the five schools initially identified, existing spaces will be able to accommodate all students.

“At this point in time, no schools will require additional space outside of their building for the start of the school year," said Bird. 

"We are developing plans should additional space be required.”

The board had also earlier moved to reduce class sizes at elementary school in neighbourhoods that have been designated as at-risk.

It worked with Toronto Public Health and used factors such as community outbreaks and socioeconomic indicators to designate certain neighbourhoods at greater risk for the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the City of Toronto said it's continuing to work with boards to provide extra space in case their needs change.

"Discussions remain ongoing as we work with the boards to understand their needs for indoor and outdoor space and how the city can best support them," said city spokesman Bruce Hawkins.

"Ensuring children in Toronto have a safe return to school is paramount and providing schools access to available city space is one way we can assist."

Elementary students at the TDSB started to head back to classes this week, with the board implementing a staggered start over three days for students to get accustomed to physical distancing rules.

But the board has pushed back the start of virtual school to Sept. 22 after thousands of parents opted for the program over the past week.

As of Tuesday, enrolment for the program had jumped from 66,000 students to more than 72,000 over the previous week.

September 17, 2020

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