Kitchener-Waterloo

After months of online learning, these Conestoga College students must return to campus and are scrambling

Some Ontario college students who signed into programs because of the ease of remote learning, put in place to continue studies amid COVID-19 lockdowns, are now being told they must return to in-person classes — leaving them scrambling, including to find a place near campus or child care. 

College said it made students aware in summer of potential return to in-person classes

Students study in a nearly empty Condor Cafe at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont. Some students enrolled in courses because they're virtual are now told they must go back to the campus, but say it would disrupt the lives they have in place. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Some Ontario college students who signed into programs because of the ease of remote learning, put in place to continue studies amid COVID-19 lockdowns, are now being told they must return to in-person classes — leaving them scrambling, including to find a place near campus or child care.  

That's the case at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., where numerous students have been told that after 19 months of mostly virtual courses, they're required to be on campus for the winter term.

They told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo that they received emails on Nov. 8 and Nov. 17 announcing most programs would be held on campus in the winter term.

But they say they haven't received enough notice to be on campus as of January.

The decision has left some students scrambling to find accommodations closer to school, find work around set class times or child care, said Alissa Gee, a second-year communications student.

"A lot of students in the program don't even live close by and some, like myself, have a small child at home," she said. "That's why I had initially signed up for this program — because it was going to be mostly remote."

Alissa Gee says remote learning has allowed her to attend class and care for her young child. (Submitted by Alissa Gee)

Gee said the remote learning option gave her flexibility; she could access a lesson after the class time if she couldn't attend due to caring for her child. 

"When they sent that email [about the change] it sent a little bit of panic," she said. "I'm worried that there are going to be students that won't be able to graduate."

In a statement to CBC News, Conestoga College said it has been "advising students since late this summer that we would be returning to on-campus learning in January 2022, and that all students, employees and visitors would be required to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19."

When asked for copies of the communication, the college said there had been a notice on its website in August informing staff and students of the hope that vaccination rates and public health restrictions might allow for a wider return to campus in the winter. 

Some labs and services are offered there now. 

What the college says

But the primary communication from the school appears to have been the academic delivery plan posted on Oct. 28. It says "most students" will return to campus — but notes programs will be delivered in three formats: in person, hybrid or remotely. 

"Although the college has delivered many programs remotely since March 2020 in response to pandemic restrictions, our intention to return to more on-campus learning and services has been consistently and repeatedly shared with our students and the broader community," the college said in its statement to CBC.

Tori Towriss, who's in the advertising and marketing communications program at Conestoga College, lives in Elora and remote learning has allowed her to pick up two jobs. (Submitted by Tori Towriss)

But both Gee and fellow student Tori Towriss said the language around the return to campus was unclear.

"We were still under the understanding that things were still up in the air," Gee said. "So when the email came out in November, that kind of solidified it for everyone."

Towriss said she received emails in November informing her the program will be offered in a hybrid model, meaning students would have to be in person for some classes and remotely for others.

It's a frustration for her, because she lives in Elora and remote learning has allowed her to pick up two jobs there.

"I kind of expected it to happen, but I was not happy that we weren't given the choice to do it online."

Raised concern with school

Alyssa Tavares, also a second-year student in the program, said another concern is students still don't know which classes will be in person and which will be online.

The delivery formats will be provided in students' program schedules or timetables set to be available by mid-December, according to the school.

"We don't know [where] classes are going to be until December … which can still change all the way up to our start date," Tavares said. 

Tavares, Towriss and Gee say they hope the school listens to their concerns and offers the option to finish their programs remotely.

Towriss said she and her classmates have contacted their program co-ordinator and college administration.

An online petition, which asks the school to keep offering distance learning, has gathered more than 100 signatures.

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