Boards address challenges

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Extended school closures have caused uncertainty for parents, and questions have been mounting around at-home learning, graduations and school transitions. But school boards are working to get some answers.

The continued closures of the school makes it challenging for some families to handle online learning and to overcome technical difficulties, said Heather Campbell, director of education at the RRDSB. Campbell said they are working to address and communicate the answers to all the concerns they’ve been hearing from parents.

“We hope students and families are managing at-home learning,” she said. “We understand that physical distancing and learning at home are not simple or easy for everyone, but staff are working diligently to support families during this time.”

The board fully supports the Ministry of Education’s decision to keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year, she said, adding that it’s a necessary step to keep students and staff safe during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

A provincial press release said in order to support at-home learning, the government is leveraging all tools, resources, technologies and services to assist school boards deliver equitable and effective learning through access to technology and internet connectivity.

Brendan Hyatt, director of education at the Northwest Catholic District School Board, said there are always challenges when a new system of e-learning is implemented overnight such as the access to the devices.

“We provided one third of our students with technological devices to support distant learning,” Hyatt said. “We also provided 60 iPhones that have hotspots so that we get internet access to students that may not have had that.”

Hyatt said he understands that students prefer to be in the schools, but keeping everyone healthy is the number one priority and he fully supports it.

“The extended closures are tough on my daughter in grade 9 because she misses her friends and the day-to-day routine. That being said, she also understands that her safety is more important than being in a physical building.“

RRDSB conducted a recent survey for parents and guardians. Campbell said they discovered a very high percentage of respondents who indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the support provided by the school.

However, Campbell said that they recognize that they have more work to do to support continuity of learning for all students and to support all families across the District. RRDSB is urging parents, guardians and students to contact their teachers and principals if they have any questions or concerns.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) also released a statement following the provincial press release. OPSBA said they appreciate the government taking precautionary measures to return to in-class instruction that is guided by health officials.

Cathy Abraham, OPSBA’s president, said in the statement they will continue to work with the government to facilitate a return to school in September.

“In all likelihood, the school experience will be different from what we are used to,” said Abraham. “I know that school board staff will endeavor to make the return as safe and positive as possible.”