'Weather-impacted learning days' a source of mounting stress for some parents

Some parents in Waterloo region say the move from snow days to “weather impacted learning days” during the pandemic is a source of heightened stress.

Taking time off a challenge for working parents, said Renee Oke

Parent Jamie Colwell says switching to online learning is difficult for many families. (Submitted by Jamie Colwell)

Some parents in Waterloo region say they have mixed feelings about how local school boards have approached snow days.

In previous years, schools would often remain open even when buses couldn't safely travel and some classrooms were combined. Both the public and Catholic school boards say this is no longer safe during the pandemic.

Instead, snow days have become "weather impacted learning days." During these days, students who had been attending school in person now shift to asynchronous online learning.

Jamie Colwell has two children in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) and said weather-impacted learning days are tough on his younger son and his wife.

Colwell said his son has a learning delay and ADHD and struggles to learn at home. Meanwhile, his wife has a disability and it can be challenging for her to help him.

"It's been extraordinarily difficult with e-learning, even with the new upgrades and changes I realize the school board made," said Colwell, who is a roofer and cannot work from home.

Colwell believes boards have become too quick to cancel school now that they can shift online – something he said doesn't work for every family.

"Not every child has a Chromebook. Not every kid has access to Internet, not every child has a parent that is willing and able-bodied to be able to help their son or daughter meet their need for school," said Colwell.

When school does need to be cancelled, he thinks a more traditional snow day – with no expectation that students will attend online – makes the most sense.

In a statement, the WRDSB said it consults with Student Transportation Services and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board when deciding whether to cancel school.

The board also said it understands some students may not be able to participate in online learning during "weather impacted learning days."

Who will watch the kids?

Renee Oke said finding a way to supervise her kids on weather-impacted learning days is hard as a working parent. (Submitted by Renee Oke)

Other parents, like Renee Oke and Amanda Wonnacott, said finding childcare during these days is a source of stress on its own.

Oke has three children, one in school with the WRDSB and two in daycare. She needed to be at work Monday for training at a new job -- while her husband was also expected to show up at work.

"Luckily my husband was able to get off work today so he could stay home with them, but if he wasn't able to, then I don't know what we'd do for childcare, especially since it was so last minute and unexpected," said Oke, who works in insurance.

Amanda Wonnacott says weather impacted learning days are especially tough on working parents. (Submitted by Amanda Wonnacott)

It was a similar situation for Wonnacott, who has a nine-year-old daughter at the WRDSB. Over the course of the pandemic, Wonnacott said she and her boyfriend have often had to forgo work in order to stay home with their daughter.

"What are we supposed to do, especially when we can't send our kid other places?" said Wonnacott, a massage therapist.

If there are more snow days before the end of the school year, Wonnacott said it will mean "more time off work and less income in the household, which is stressful on all of us."

"We just do what we have to do to get through," she said. "I expect the worst these days and hope for the best."

'A little bit tough'

Parent Eric Hoshooley said pivoting to online learning can be tough. (Submitted by Eric Hoshooley)

Even those parents who can work from home say it isn't an ideal situation. Eric Hoshooley works as a telecom technician and his wife works from home. They have a 10-year-old daughter in the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

Hoshooley said he's glad the board offers online learning during weather-impacted days, but said the asynchronous set-up can be a challenge.

"[The kids are] being assigned tasks they need to do and whatnot, but they essentially need to do it on their own," said Hoshooley. "If the other person in the home is working, they can't be available for questions every five minutes to help them ... that makes it a little bit tough."

In a letter sent to parents last November, the Catholic board acknowledged the set-up won't be ideal for everyone.

"We realize it may not be a perfect solution and learning day, but bus snow days rarely were," the letter said.