Kitchener-Waterloo

Mother says WRDSB should have planned to send laptops home before school was dismissed

A Waterloo mom is frustrated after her son was denied access to a school board-provided laptop on Friday only to have the Waterloo Region District School Board change course less than a week later.

Lauren Judge says she saw 'writing on the wall' and questions why board, province didn't

Lauren Judge says the Waterloo Region District School Board should have done a better job planning the distribution of devices for elementary students, like her 10-year-old son, pictured here. (Submitted by: Lauren Judge)

A Waterloo mom is frustrated after her son was denied access to a school board-provided laptop last week only to have the Waterloo Region District School Board change course on Tuesday.

Last Thursday, after hearing local public health officials warn of an impending lockdown, Lauren Judge decided to be proactive. Her family has only one computer, which Judge uses for her PhD work during the day. 

She knew if school were to be closed in January, her 10-year-old son was going to need a computer. So she emailed his teacher. 

"I'm starting to see the writing on the wall. I just want to make sure that at least we have it over the holidays. So just in case something happens, that we would have the [school-issued] Chromebook at home," said Judge. 

When she dropped him off at school on Friday, his teacher apologized and said the school board wasn't sending any devices home with students, Judge told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

Devices must be quarantined

A blog post by the school board on Dec. 17 said it had not received any direction from the Ministry of Education or Region of Waterloo Public Health that indicated schools would close in the new year and so it said "the WRDSB will not be deploying any additional technology to students in our elementary schools."

The board explained is was "because any deployed device would need to be quarantined for seven days upon the return to the school. Understandably, this would negatively impact learning in our schools, should schools remain open."

Then, on Monday, the Ontario government announced a 28-day lockdown for southern Ontario, starting on Dec. 26. It announced elementary schools will be closed for in-person learning until Jan. 11. Students will be expected to log on for online learning between Jan. 4 and 8.

Judge's son has ADHD and is on an individual education plan. She says he has trouble focusing and being out of school without his educational assistant will be hard enough.

Without a computer, it would be very difficult. 

"For school boards to assume that every home has a computer and the internet ... we're not there yet. There are families that just absolutely can't afford it," said Judge. "What happens if my computer dies or what happens if I can't afford to pay for the internet anymore? My son will be completely cut off from his schooling."

Just to be safe, Judge ordered Grade Five curriculum workbooks so they can sit side-by-side while she completes her grad school coursework, but it won't be easy. 

"It's exhausting. He loses focus pretty easy," she said. "For him, it's like every sentence you have to encourage him over and over and over and over again. So one assignment can take the whole day."

Devices available week of Jan. 4

After inquiries made by CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, the school board updated its position on take-home devices for elementary students. 

On Dec. 22 it said that since elementary students will begin 2021 learning from home, elementary students who do not have access to a computer at home can request one. 

While Judge is glad to see the school board is putting plans in place for families like hers, she questions why they weren't better prepared given the board distributed 30,000 devices to students in the spring. 

"I don't understand why they had to wait for some kind of go-ahead from the province, wouldn't they have this plan already under their belt?" she said. "As a school board, I would have been working all summer to make sure that just in case, God forbid, this happened again, this is what we are going to do ahead of time — these are the communications we are going to send out."

Lauren Judge says for the Waterloo Region District School Board to assume families have computer and internet access is wrong. (Submitted by: Lauren Judge)

She said she also worries about parents who, for various reasons, are overwhelmed right now.  

"What if a student in need didn't have parents with the time or will to advocate on their behalf? The student's needs wouldn't be met," she said. 

Families of elementary students who need access to a laptop can request one by calling or emailing their child's school over the Christmas break. 

The schools will then arrange time and location for picking up the devices, which will start the week of Jan. 4. 

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