Toronto

Fed up parents call for boycott of online classes as province shifts to virtual learning to fight COVID-19

There's growing evidence that parents are getting fed up with online learning in Ontario, with some calling for boycotts and "parent strikes" on social media as the province shifts to virtual classes for the third straight school year.

Virtual learning is 'hurting us. It cannot happen again,' one mom tells CBC News

Sasha Mitsui, 4, participates in virtual school on Jan. 5, 2022. The TDSB returned to class virtually Wednesday after the winter break as part of a two week-long measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

There's growing evidence that parents are getting fed up with online learning in Ontario, with some calling for boycotts and "parent strikes" as the province shifts to virtual classes for the third straight school year.

Whether they're trying to send the Doug Ford government a message, or just trying to preserve household sanity, a number of parents are telling CBC Toronto that when virtual bells ring on Wednesday their children won't be in front of the screen.

"We're just not going to participate in a mandate that makes no sense to us anymore," Angie Tingas, a mother of four from Toronto, said in an interview. She was reacting to the announcement by Premier Doug Ford Monday that the province was moving classes online for at least two weeks as part of the province's effort to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

While Ontario has relied on remote learning more than other jurisdictions, those calling for a boycott say the situation is different this time. 

A poster created by an Ontario mother calls for a 'parent strike' in response to the government's return to virtual schooling. (Melisa Mariutti)

Many parents were hoping COVID-19 vaccines — more than 85 per cent of eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated and more school-aged children are joining that group — and other preventative measures, including air filtration systems, would keep their kids in school all year. That's especially important, several said, given the potential harm school closures are causing children, something that's being witnessed firsthand in many households and increasingly studied by experts.

Last year didn't go well for Tingas and her children and she informed their schools earlier this week they would not be logging on for virtual class.

"I feel like this is the only outlet parents have to tell the government we're not okay with this shutdown," Tingas said.

'Parent strike'

Melisa Mariutti, a mother of two from Hamilton, will be keeping her kids out of remote learning and she's trying to persuade others to do the same by creating and sharing online posters calling for a "parent strike."

"It's an opportunity for online learning not to happen during these two weeks in order to show the government we are serious. It's hurting us. It cannot happen again," Mariutti said.

Melisa Mariutti and her two daughters. The Ontario mother is refusing to enrol her children in remote learning this week. (Melisa Mariutti )

"We've told our son he doesn't have to do it," said Laura Jamieson, a mother of two in Orangeville. "It's his choice."

Jamieson says remote learning was a struggle last year not only for her 10-year-old but the entire family.

"Every five minutes I was yelling: 'Get online, you're supposed to be online!' We were at each other's throats. Everybody was constantly yelling at each other," Jamieson said.

Parents, especially those with younger kids, say it can be difficult to facilitate learning outside of the classroom structure, without the authority of an in-person teacher, and in a home full of TVs, toys, siblings and other distractions.

They say an easy-going approach allows kids to drift away from the screen after attendance, while being too heavy-handed leads to conflict and stress on the child, parents, and others in the home.

"You're asking a lot," said Tingas, who doesn't believe it's healthy for a parent to take on the daily role of strict schoolmaster.

"We're not those parents anymore. We're not just going to yell at our kids to do as they're told. No one's going to smack their child for not getting online. This is not that generation," she said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at a news conference as Education Minister Stephen Lecce listens at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario government says it recognizes what families are going through.

"We know parents and students are facing great levels of difficulty navigating through this global pandemic," Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote in a statement to CBC News.

The statement notes that the government's focus is on getting students back into the classroom. For those struggling with remote learning, school-based academic and mental health supports have been extended.

None of the parents who spoke to CBC Toronto are planning to abandon education altogether. Some will follow their own lessons and schedules, while others say they will spend more time outdoors and focus on physical activity. 

Dr. Ripudaman S. Minhas, a developmental pediatrician at Unity Health Toronto, says whether kids are participating in online school or not, it's important for parents to help them adjust to their needs.

"We're moving from really rich in-person learning environments to distance learning or virtual learning. The impact on students can be really different. It depends on their age and their developmental level, their mental health status," Minhas said in an interview.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español. trevor.dunn@cbc.ca

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