Parents are reeling after news broke on Wednesday night that the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic Virtual School would be dissolved in favour of moving to a hybrid model board-wide.
On Wednesday night, the Catholic school board announced it would be dissolving its virtual elementary school and moving all students to the new model as of Nov. 23. Secondary students of the board will also be adopting the hybrid learning model as of Nov. 12.
Daniella Damond has two sons whose home school is Father F.X. O’Reilly Catholic School in Tottenham. Her eldest is in Grade 5, while her youngest is in junior kindergarten.
“My main concern is that children are going to just be observing what’s happening in the classroom as opposed to being active participants,” said Damond.
As Damond and her husband both work from home, the virtual school was their best option. Damond worries that the move to a hybrid model will mean her kids will require more attention to stay on track at home than they did under the virtual school model.
Damond sent her concerns to school board trustees, and received a response from Barrie trustee Maria Hardie, but it was the same information provided in the letter sent to parents.
Lianne Boxall’s nine-year-old daughter is in Grade 4 at Monsignor Claire Catholic Elementary School in Barrie, and has participated in the virtual school since September.
Boxall’s daughter deals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was sick and hospitalized in July leading to a compromised immune system. Boxall’s mother lives with them and is a health-care worker, and grandmother – who is in her 80s – also lives with them, which are the reasons that led to her choosing the virtual-school option for her daughter.
“I had anxiety about it, but as the weeks went on I saw the kids thriving with the virtual school. I saw them doing very well and getting the work done,” said Boxall.
Boxall says she believes moving to a hybrid model will be a mistake. When schools first shifted to the virtual learning out of necessity back in March, Boxall says her daughter struggled, but now she’s adapted and is doing much better.
“The kids who already are doing the virtual school...will be left behind,” she said. “I am afraid to see my daughter fail because she is not getting the schooling she currently is getting through the virtual school.”
“I think the school board should leave it the way it is,” said Boxall.
Carla Giblin’s eight-year-old daughter is enrolled in Grade 3 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Elmvale.
While Giblin says her daughter’s experience in the virtual school has been excellent, she has concerns now about switching to the hybrid model as her daughter is the only student in her class at her 200-pupil school to be using the virtual model. She worries the new model will be isolating for kids learning from home.
“She’s actually made new friends online. Just yesterday, while they were on a break, they were chatting on their own private Google Meet chat. She’s made these connections with these kids and it’s fantastic to see,” said Giblin. “She won’t be able to interact with her friends. It’s frustrating in the sense that they’ve already gone through a restructuring about two weeks ago.”
“I feel the board is doing this to try to force parents to put their kids back into the brick and mortar schools,” she said.
Wasaga Beach mom Natalie King enrolled her Grade-8 daughter in the virtual school as King herself is considered high-risk after a health problem earlier this year.
“(My daughter’s) virtual learning experience was fantastic,” said King. “The positive experience and relaxed atmosphere disabled barriers kids feel in classrooms. My daughter, as a result, was flourishing in all subjects.”
King worries the switch to a hybrid model will mean her daughter will become more of an observer in the classroom, rather than an active participant.
“In essence, she will become a fly on the wall only gaining access to the teacher at limited offerings. The intimate online interaction will be removed with a clinical and detached learning process,” said King. “This almost seems like a punishment to students and parents who have restructured their lives to accommodate the situation.”
Very few details have been provided by the board on how the hybrid model with work day-to-day.
According to their website, virtual learners will continue to have real-time instruction via video conferencing and will not be watching a live stream of the classroom teacher instructing the in-class students.
Instructional time will include the classroom teacher instructing all students (both in-class and virtual, using a variety of technologies) at the same time, working with small groups (both in the classroom and online) and students working independently.
A Change.org petition has started opposing the Catholic board’s decision switch to a hybrid model, addressed to the province and school board, and has garnered more than 400 signatures so far.
To view or sign the petition, click here.
For more information on the hybrid learning model from the SMCDSB, click here.