Ottawa

Parents weigh options, students call for mark freeze as schools prepare to reopen

A student-led call for a 'mark freeze' is one of several ways students and parents are questioning the rollout of Ontario’s return to elementary and secondary classrooms.

Students head back amid wave of COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron variant

A student gets dropped off outside Ottawa's Immaculata High School last February. In-person learning returns to Ontario's elementary and secondary schools Monday, but not all parents and students are pleased with the current plan. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A student-led call for a "mark freeze" is one of several ways students and parents in Ottawa are expressing discontent with Ontario's decision to return to in-person elementary and secondary school classes.

Students were set to head back to Ottawa's classrooms Monday — after the province delayed the return to school for two weeks following the winter break — but a major winter storm caused boards to postpone those plans for one more day.

The province said it paused in-person learning to bolster its supply of N-95 masks, improve youth vaccination rates against COVID-19 and deploy 3,000 HEPA filters to classrooms.

High Omicron case counts have pushed several Ontario school boards, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), to acknowledge last-minute class cancellations may be coming if rampant infections limit staffing.

On Saturday, Ottawa medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches released a short video with words of encouragement.

"Thank you for supporting each other through this," Etches said in the video.

Calls for 'mark freeze' 

By Sunday evening, more than 2,000 students and parents had signed an online petition circulated by a group of high school students in Ottawa calling for, among other demands, a "mark freeze."

The petition wants the OCDSB to follow other boards across the province by freezing student grades where they stood prior to the winter break.

The Toronto District School Board announced last Thursday secondary students in the board would not be "negatively affected" by the final evaluations of the semester, and teachers will only take marks assigned after Dec. 17 into consideration if they improve the student's standing in the course.

Other school boards have adopted the same policy.

William Cooper, the petition's spokesperson and a Grade 10 student at Lisgar, said it would be unfair to students if the OCDSB chose not to align its policies with other boards.

"In effect, this disadvantages Ottawa students on things like university applications," he told CBC.

The OCDSB has decided that Monday's classes will remain virtual as a major winter storm bears down on the nation's capital, however, along with the rest of Ottawa's school boards.

Parents face an 'impossible decision' 

Regardless of the one-day delay, some parents are questioning the safety of sending their kids back during the Omicron wave.

"I'm being forced to make this impossible decision," said Trina Fraser, an Ottawa lawyer with a son in Grade 9 at Sir Robert Borden High School and a daughter in Grade 6 and Knoxdale Public School.

"Either I have to send my child into the lion's den … or I'm keeping my child home and basically homeschooling them."

Some students are calling for OCDSB to follow other boards across the province by implementing a 'mark freeze' until the end of the semester. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

Fraser told CBC Ottawa she recognizes the hardships some parents and students face when schools aren't open to in-person learning, but she wonders why a temporary virtual learning option isn't available until cases subside.

She said she could apply to have her kids enrolled in online learning, but availability is limited and it would prevent her children from returning to the classroom this semester.

"It's just like they've thrown their hands up and said, 'It is what it is. Everybody's going to get it.'"

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