Why these Sudbury parents decided to keep their kids home

Nearly six months after schools throughout Ontario closed because of COVID-19, Sienna Roy is getting ready to start a new school year — but she won't be heading back to class in-person. 

For some students, the return to class is happening at home

Mireille Roy has decided not to send her daughter, Sienna, back to in-person classes. Theirs is one of many families that have opted to continue with distance learning. (Submitted by Mireille Roy)

Nearly six months after schools throughout Ontario closed because of COVID-19, Sienna Roy is getting ready to start a new school year — but she won't be heading back to class in-person. 

The grade 5 student will be continuing with distance learning. She's enrolled in the French Catholic school board's virtual school. She says she's a bit nervous, but also "excited to learn."

Sienna's mother, Mireille Roy, says the decision to keep her daughter home wasn't easy. But Roy says she wanted to protect her own parents, who are in the higher-risk age demographic. She also worries schools might end up closed again, and she doesn't want Sienna to "get that rug pulled out from under her once more." 

"We're hoping with the virtual school it will be the same from beginning to end," Roy said. 

The Roy family is not unique in its decision. As many students head back to class in-person after nearly half a year at home, a good number of students will continue to learn from home. In Sudbury's Rainbow District School Board, for example, about 19 per cent of students are enrolled in distance learning. 

'Explosion' of interest in homeschooling 

Presented with a choice between distance and in-person learning, families have weighed many factors in deciding what's best for their children — and their circumstances. 

Veronyk Zinn has enrolled her daughter, Karolyn, in distance learning for junior kindergarten, which she plans to supplement with her own homeschooling. 

"It all came down to the very last day," Zinn said.

"I had a conversation with the school and with the teacher, and basically it was a class of 29 students for JK / SK this year. I am bubbled up with my parents, I have a baby at home … I didn't feel 100 per cent confident sending her to school right off the hop without knowing what that was going to look like."

It's a lot on me, but I feel like that's the best route to take right now.— Paige Proulx, mother of two 

Zinn says the idea of homeschooling had crossed her mind in the past, but she says really, it was "the pandemic that pushed us to homeschool this year." 

And she's not alone. Amanda Ostrander homeschools her two young daughters, and she and her husband run a Youtube page and blog documenting their journey. She says in recent months she's seen an "explosion" of interest from people thinking about homeschooling for the first time. She says they've been getting messages from people throughout Ontario, Canada, and even the U.S., asking questions about how to get started with homeschooling. 

Amanda and Stéphane Ostrander have a Youtube page and blog where they document their homeschooling journey with their children, Alexie and Zoé. (Submitted by Amanda Ostrander)

Ostrander says there are "two camps" of people — those, like Zinn, who already had an interest in homeschooling, "and this has been the push for them," and others who never would have considered homeschooling if it wasn't for the pandemic. 

Children with special needs

Paige Proulx is one of those parents who "never, ever thought about homeschooling my kids" — but now is getting ready to be their teacher. 

"It's a lot on me, but I feel like that's the best route to take right now," Proulx said. 

Proulx says her decision to homeschool was based largely on her two sons' special needs. Her oldest, Nashton, is diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while her younger son, Bryston, has severe autism. She says properly wearing a mask and following safety protocols would be next to impossible. 

Paige Proulx's two sons, Nashton, left, and Bryson, both have special needs. She's decided to homeschool them rather than send them back to school or enroll them in online learning. (Submitted by Paige Proulx)

"There was just no way I could send them to school. And then I was thinking about the online learning, and they can't sit in front of a computer screen for like five hours. … Like, I have a hard time keeping my oldest, Nashton, to sit still to have, you know, his supper," Proulx said. 

Sara Kitlar-Pothier has similar concerns. Her oldest son, Bohdan, has autism, and she'll be keeping him, and his younger brother, Luka, home for at least the first term. 

Kitlar-Pothier says she feels lucky to be in a situation to be able to make that choice — something she knows not everyone can do. But while she believes learning from home is the safest option for her kids, she feels students with special needs have been "set up to fail."

She has concerns about keeping track of Bohdan's Individual Education Plan (IEP) with distance learning, and if he'll have access to other supports he needs. 

Sara Kitlar-Pothier with her husband, Shawn Pothier, and their children Bohdan, 7, and Luka, 4. (Submitted by Sara Kitlar-Pothier)

Kitlar-Pothier says she's "loved the opportunity" to have more one-on-one interaction with her kids over the last six months, but she's already noticing the effects of being away from the socialization and structure of school. 

"Particularly with my autistic son, I've seen educational regression, behaviour regression, social interaction setbacks, just to name a few. But I also see them with my typical son too," Kitlar-Pothier said.

"I want the best for my kids, I just don't know what the best is right now."


Sarah MacMillan is a journalist with CBC Toronto. She previously reported in Sudbury, Ont. and Prince Edward Island. You can contact her at