Melissa Leschuk has made the decision to keep her kids home in September.
Leschuk’s 12-year-old son Noah and 10-year-old daughter Mady attend Hillcrest Public School. The Barrie mom is one of many local parents to make the choice, despite there not being much information available yet on what remote learning will look like in Simcoe County schools.
“I decided to keep my kids home this year, because I just felt the government wasn’t doing enough to reduce the risk of sending them to school,” Leschuk said “I felt the class sizes were way too big and wearing a mask all day (if the kids would actually keep them on) just wasn’t enough precaution.
“My daughter has asthma so that was definitely a factor and if my kids went to school we also couldn’t be in contact with my mom because it would pose too much of a threat for her health,” she added.
On Aug. 13, school boards across the province were given provincial guidelines with little fanfare on how remote learning should work in the fall. Local parent surveys were due back from parents on Aug. 14 for the public board, and Aug. 17 for the Catholic board.
School boards will now be using those guidelines to plan how remote learning will work at each individual board. To access the entire memo, click here.
Leschuk said she thinks the remote learning that took place from March to June, when COVID-19 started, didn’t do much for her kids.
“They were depressed. They missed their friends and were basically thrown into a situation they didn’t know how to process. We tried the website the government put learning tools onto, but honestly, it seemed too young for them. It didn’t challenge them,” she said.
Leschuk hopes remote learning in the fall will be more social and interactive with teachers and students. She’s also said she hopes the school board is able to provide some tools, such as laptops.
“I’ve asked the school board to provide us with laptops as we don’t have the resources to buy two laptops for my kids to use. I’m sure that’s the case with a lots of families,” she said.
With 4,100 students in the Catholic board alone planning to go with the remote learning option, Catherine McCullough, interim director of education with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, said on Tuesday the board will be following the provincial guidelines closely.
“We already had ideas of what we were going to do, but now we have the clarity and the details,” said McCullough. “We have not landed exactly on the methodology by which we will do this, but we are talking about scenarios.”
So far, the board has decided on implementing both a secondary and elementary virtual school, which will each have their own principal assigned to oversee those schools.
“We’ve reached out to a number of boards and we’re sharing best practices, because we shouldn’t be doing this in isolation,” said McCullough. “We need to be collaborating at this time because the timelines are so short.”
Parents who chose the remote-learning option will be given more definitive descriptions of what they can expect now that the board has the provincial guidelines, McCullough said.
“What I’d like to tell parents is, we’re going to do our very best,” she said. “I think we’ve learned a lot about remote learning. These past few months have taught us many things.”
Redeployment of equipment is being considered by the board as part of the remote learning plans.
“We certainly wouldn’t have enough to provide every family with equipment, but many families have access to a laptop or some kind of technology for this to happen,” she said. “But, just like we did over the last few months, we may redeploy or provide equipment to support the remote learning option.”
Mobile expert Lorri Pringle, from The Mobile Shop, says many families navigating at-home learning this fall should consider mobile devices as a means to access online learning.
"For the many families navigating at-home learning, a mobile phone or device is such a great solution. Configuring apps like Google Classroom or Zoom is often as easy as the tap of an icon on an iPhone or Android, and with a built-in, high-quality camera and the ability to set up in any room in your home, smartphones are built for meeting your needs with flexibility," said Pringle.
"Accessories like noise-cancelling headphones and a phone stand so the students in your house can tune in hands-free and take notes are both great low-cost tools,” she added.
McCullough says there may also be a small percentage of families who would prefer paper packages, which the board is also looking at as an option.
Overall, McCullough says she’s grateful for the understanding of families during this time of uncertainty being experienced across education.
“I’d like to say a real, sincere thank you to our families for being patient. Information has not been rolled out to school boards all at once. It’s still coming,” she said.
The Catholic board has a question and answer section on their website that is updated daily as new information comes in. To view the site, click here.