HAVELOCK — About two dozen parents and children gathered near Havelock-Belmont Public School on Friday morning to lament the provincial government’s recent move to virtual learning — carrying signs that read “Schools not Screens” and “Let Kids be Kids.”
Danielle Follett, the mother of two students at the Havelock school, was one of them.
Like many of the parents in attendance, Follett had opted her children out of online learning this time around after Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday that remote learning would replace in-person schooling across the province until at least Jan. 17 as Omicron cases surge.
Follett says previous challenges she and her children faced with at-home schooling earlier on in the pandemic informed her decision. As a self-employed hairstylist, Follett says she’s faced difficulties juggling her kids’ remote learning with the responsibilities of her job.
“The first time, I tried my best. I tried my best to get online, I tried my best to do everything that was asked of me. I tried to positively encourage my kids and it was just a real struggle,” Follett said.
“It was hard because my son and I sometimes butt heads and I feel like it’s not worth the mental anguish and struggle of him and I fighting to get five minutes of work out of him.
“It just got a little harder and harder because as the kids get more and more discouraged, they want to try less and less. They just want to be at school with their friends and teachers and have a routine.”
Follett, echoing other parents at Friday’s rally, said it’s been difficult to assume the role of an at-home instructor.
“I’m not equipped to be a teacher; I’m not trained to teach my children math that I wasn’t taught,” she told The Examiner.
Virtual learning for her children has been made extra challenging due to a lack of access to reliable internet at home, she added.
Being pulled from in-person learning has also taken a toll on her kids’ mental health, said Follett.
“Mentally, they aren’t doing well because of it. They’re disappointed; they’re upset.”
Keri-Lyn Toms, a stay-at-home mom with three kids at Havelock-Belmont Public School, has also removed her children from the latest round of virtual learning.
“My kids need to be in school. We just want our kids in school; for them to learn and socialize and improve their mental stability.”
Toms added, “we’re not teachers and it’s difficult for everybody whether they’re working or they’re at home. It’s not an easy time, especially to be doing this again.”
If virtual learning continues past Jan. 17, Toms said she’ll likely begin home-schooling her children.
On Friday, The Examiner and other Torstar newspapers published an open letter to Premier Doug Ford signed by 136 parents, doctors, CEOs and lawmakers outlining their concern about the provincial government’s “decision to close schools for in-person learning without creating a sustainable plan to keep them safely open for the long term.”
The letter states that for children across the province, especially those who belong to lower-income families, previous closures have resulted in “far-reaching consequences,” with Ontario facing “more suicide attempts, eating disorders, and decreased mental health and physical wellness among young people.”
The authors call on the province to bolster access to vaccinations and N95 masks, improve schools’ ventilation systems and form contingency strategies for staff shortages in order to reopen schools safely.
Constance Leavitt, a single mother with two kids at Havelock-Belmont Public School, said at Friday’s demonstration that she wants to see more preparation from the Ontario government.
“Where’s the plan? We thought this was over, but it’s been a continuous guessing game.”
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner