Parents frustrated as province extends online learning until Jan. 25

In light of rising COVID-19 cases, the province announced Thursday afternoon that children in southern Ontario will have to continue learning online until Jan. 25.

Students enrolled in in-person learning were set to head back to the classrooms on Monday

In light of rising COVID-19 cases, the province announced Thursday afternoon that children in southern Ontario will have to continue with remote learning until Jan. 25. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Parents and teachers are trying to grapple with the fact that children won't be returning to the classrooms for at least two more weeks. 

In light of rising COVID-19 cases, the province announced Thursday afternoon that children in southern Ontario will have to continue in full, remote learning until Jan. 25.

"It's frustrating," said parent Andrea Poirier. "I understand that the cases are on the rise. However, I just feel like there's a complete lack of consistency and it's very frustrating and stressful for parents and for kids. I just don't know where this ends."

Up until Thursday, the province had said elementary school children would return to in-person learning on Monday and many parents were confident that would be the case, especially since local health authorities have said that there has been very little transmission within school settings. 

In a statement, Premier Doug Ford said the new measures "will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus." The announcement came on the same day Ontario reported a record-high 3,519 new COVID-19 cases. 

Parents and children feeling the strain from remote learning

Parents say the worry for their wellbeing and the one of their children if remote learning continues. (Colin Butler/CBC)

All students in the region have been learning remotely since the beginning of the week as part of a provincial order.

For Poireir, and many parents, online learning has meant career sacrifices. Poireir said she had to take time off work to be there for her three children, two of which are school-aged.

"When my husband's at work, working his 10 hour shift, it's all on me," she said. 

"So literally, I'm just going child to child putting out fires all morning long. And we can't even do a full day of schooling. It's just not feasible." 

In addition to the toll remote learning has taken on parents, many worry for their children's well-being. 

"I understand why they're doing this, but kids need some normalcy," said Annie Parada, who is juggling working from home and being there for her two children. "They're the ones feeling the pressure, not just us."

"The main thing for my children is that they want to play, see their friends and have recess as it used to be ... [When it comes to recess time] I see [my youngest child] going back to his video games as opposed to all the interaction that he had with his friends."

Teachers' union wishes province would have been proactive

Craig Smith, the president of the Thames Valley Local Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said with COVID-19 cases rising in the region, he was not surprised with the province's announcement.

"The concern is less what they've announced and sort of how they've done it. They've taken this long in the week to announce it ... and, as always, with everything in this, it's been a reaction to things as opposed to being proactive." 

Ontario moved into a province-wide lockdown nearly two weeks ago in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, but trends in key public health indicators have worsened, according to the province. 

"We would have liked to seen the COVID numbers go the other way ... The system probably didn't do as much as it needed to put the investments in where they needed to be to ensure that schools could reopen safely and continue to be open even in a situation like this."

Smith said ETFO believes in-person learning is the best option for Ontario students and recognizes that full, remote learning is putting strain on all parties.

"Teachers will start to adjust to some extent to the new environment recognizing that remote teaching is hard for teachers, it's hard for kids and it's really hard for parents because there's a lot of demands put on on all three of those groups. So it's not the easiest of things to be turning around quickly."

The Thames Valley District School Board said Thursday that it's in the process of deploying almost 9,000 computers to students. 

In a statement, board officials said they will be providing parents and guardians with more details about the return to school when it becomes available. 

The province reiterated that secondary students are set to return to in-person classes on Jan. 25 along with elementary school children.

With files from Colin Butler