Ontario students will not be returning to the classrooms for the remainder of the academic school year, leaving many parents frustrated and worried for the wellbeing of their children.
“This one is disappointing for us parents who continue to have to watch our children not only struggle, but literally fail to thrive on social, personal and academic levels,” said Londoner Sophie Louise Roland, a parent of four children, three who are school aged.
“I’ve watched my children fall asleep in front of Zoom, I’ve watched my children cry in front of school classrooms, I’ve watched my children be disinterested and I’ve watched my children not understand.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his decision to keep students in remote learning for the final month of classes on Wednesday afternoon after weeks of mounting speculation and calls from medical experts to resume in-person learning.
“It was a hard choice to make, but I will not, and I repeat, I will not take unnecessary risks with our children right now,” the premier said.
Students across the province have been learning remotely since April 19 when soaring rates of COVID-19 resulted in cancelling in-person learning.
Last week, Ford asked stakeholders to weigh in on reopening schools. On Wednesday, he said some experts believed students should be back in class, but they could not promise that wouldn’t lead to thousands of new COVID-19 cases. The province’s Science Advisory Table had estimated that in-person learning could raise the number of new daily COVID-19 cases by six to 11 per cent, but said that was “manageable.”
“When it’s a matter of life and death, you understand that you have to do something and we all pull through, but the sense of urgency that was created in March 2020, is difficult to accept in June 2021,” Roland said, adding she would’ve liked to see the government pursue alternate solutions that still would’ve allowed students to have a sense or normalcy.
London parent Julie Hillis echoes the sentiment, but was not surprised that is what the government decided to do.
“I was a little sad for kids,” she said. “It’s been really hard on them, so I think it would have been nice for them to have gone back, even for a couple of weeks, just to see their friends before the summer.”
Hillis, who has four children under the age of eight, said in hindsight she wishes she would’ve opted to homeschool her kids instead.
“I’m a shift worker, so I’m basically home with the kids half the time that they’re in school online, so I can see it’s definitely hard … They don’t want to sit in front of the screens all day,” she said.
“A homeschooling model maybe would have been better for my family rather than going online for six hours a day. It’s just too much for them and I don’t think they’re learning what they should be learning.”
Sam Hammond, the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said in a statement that Ford’s government has failed to manage the pandemic by ignoring recommendations from stakeholders that he said could’ve kept schools open.
“Under false pretences, Minister Lecce spent nine months insisting schools were safe, without any evidence to confirm this. This government’s utter disregard for the safety of students, educators and other education workers cannot be ignored,” Hammond said.
London’s largest English-language school board said they will stay the course and continue to only offer in-person learning to students with complex special needs.
“We know that students thrive when they are learning in person at school and we look forward to welcoming all students back to our schools in September,” said Director of Education Mark Fisher.
Fisher added that parents will be notified in the coming days about retrieving personal belongings from schools, returning school board property as well as year-end recognitions.
The province is pushing for a “safe and normal” return to school in September, once teachers and students are all vaccinated.