Ontario parents, children struggling with the latest online schooling

Christie Vickers simply does not know how her two daughters will cope through the next two weeks of online school.

And the parent in the York region says she’s not sure how she’s going to pressure them to sign up for tuition, after the difficult year they had last year with online school when she ended up pulling them out two months for early to “save their mental health.”

“My children are not the same children they were three years ago. They have somehow lost the childish glimmer – the carefree gleam,” said Vickers. “They are stressed, they are sad, they are depressed. . It is not as it should be. ”

Across the province on Wednesday, families were once again faced with the difficult task of managing their children’s online schooling while juggling parental responsibility and their own jobs.

Some parents see the transition to online learning as a relief with the daily number of COVID-19s and hospital admissions hitting record highs. But many say they feel overwhelmed, frustrated and angry that despite the many sacrifices they have made over the last few years, their children’s education has again been disrupted.

“They have no school, no extras; their friends will not play with them because they are scared,” Vickers said. “I go from one room with a crying child to another room with a crying child. It’s just not possible, especially for working parents. ”

Vickers is unsure how to push her children when she herself feels defeated over this closure, and the possibility that it may be extended.

“As an adult, as a mother, I am falling apart. My friends are falling apart. We do not even text each other because we are tired – and there is not much to say. “

On Monday, Prime Minister Doug Ford warned that Ontario is facing “a tsunami of new cases in the coming days and weeks ”and ordered it schools switch to online learning until at least January 17th. On Wednesday, Ontario health officials reported 2,081 people are in the hospital with COVID-19, and 288 are in intensive care.

Parent Miranda Mathews-Pike said she was pleased to hear that schools would be closed for two weeks and hopes it will give schools time to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to teachers and those who may have caught COVID-19 during the holidays. chance to recover.

“To be honest, I was surprised to hear that the school went as planned, as it seems like everyone got it,” said Mathews-Pike, who said her entire family, including her children in class 8 and 9 in York, got the virus at Christmas. “I think that can be done online, but only for a short time.”

Ontario children had already spent at least 26 weeks in online school – longer than any other jurisdiction in the country – before Wednesday’s move to distance learning.

But unlike the first time Ontario schools were closed due to COVID-19, families are tired of shutdowns, saying the risks of the virus need to be balanced with the risks to children’s mental health and emotional well-being.

In a statement this week, the Children’s Health Coalition, made up of pediatric hospitals and centers, said that “the harm to children and young people while schools are closed is significant” and called on the province to “do everything possible to build trust in families and training workers ”to open schools on 17 January.

Toronto parent Aynsley Deluce says the continued shutdowns simply “do not work.”

“The teachers are doing their absolute best, but this system is not designed to be online,” she said. “The pressure it puts on them and on families is… too much. It’s incredibly stressful for everyone.”

Deluce, who has a daughter in kindergarten and a son in 3rd grade, said like many families: “We have literally done everything we have been asked to do. We have our maximum vaccinations, we have N95s for us and children, we have kept away from our parents and kept our social circles small, “she said.

“We saw Omicron come … why do we always play catch up?” said Deluce, asking why the government has taken so long to provide teachers with adequate PPE, boosters and invested in ways to make classrooms safer. “The concern is the long-term effects on behavioral health of children and adults … and you can not turn it around now.”

Dr. Anna Banerji, professor of public health at the University of Toronto, agrees. She hopes the two-week delay, which she believes was necessary to prevent outbreaks, will be used to implement vaccine flashes for students and teachers and catch up on ventilation, the distribution of high-quality masks and other measures to make schools safe. .

Three years into the pandemic, education experts are aware of the cumulative costs of school closures – from loss of learning to impaired mental and physical health to impaired social and emotional development.

“We have seen very, very unequal impacts, and what we have not seen in Ontario is any kind of cost estimate for children … we have not seen any effort to develop big plans to catch up,” Kelly Gallagher said. -Mackay, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University specializing in education and inequality. “We are undermining the future we all want and we are doing it on the backs of the most vulnerable children.”

Without significant and immediate investment in a recovery plan, it can translate into lifelong and even generational consequences, experts say.

“All children in Canada, with very few exceptions, are experiencing disruptions in their academic career right now. But for some, this disruption is more like a derailment,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. “That’s why we’re talking about being on the brink of a generational disaster.”

There is an urgent need for accessible mental health screening, diagnosis and treatment for children and adolescents, she said.

There are more tools available in January 2022 than ever before – including safe, effective vaccines for adults and children – and an understanding of how the virus works, which is why this particular school closure is so annoying, said Prachi Srivastava, professor at Western. University researching educational disorders.

It shows a continuing and unforgivable mistake in treating schools as an essential service and doing what is necessary to keep them open, she said.

“Education is a fundamental right. I do not have the right to eat at a restaurant or go to a Raptors game. But it is mandatory that I have the right to an education,” she said.

She hopes the current collective frustration will result in change – including a multi-year recovery plan for education.

“Without it, we will not be able to move forward,” Srivastava said.

Peel Region’s Romana Siddiqui, with the Ontario Parent Action Network, said she is trying to remain hopeful that the move to online for her three children will be temporary.

“It’s hard for everyone, and with the rising cases, I understand why we’re had to turn to online,” she said. But last-minute changes can hurt families, so many closures themselves, she said.

“The constant unpredictability is frustrating for children, for families and businesses,” she said. “In this situation, parents have had to figure out childcare, Wi-Fi, access to devices in just over 24 hours. There’s no way to plan.”

Noor Javed is a Toronto-based reporter for Star covering urban news with an interest in 905 municipal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @njaved
Lex Harvey is a Toronto-based Star Newsletter producer and author of the First Up Newsletter. Follow her on Twitter: @lexharvs

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