The return to online learning of Ontario students saw some challenges with technology and attendance.
The province announced earlier this week that students would shift to online learning for at least two weeks as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in Omicron cases.
Jordan Morrish, who has two children attending kindergarten in Windsor, said the first day of online learning "felt kind of hectic."
"My girls loved it, though," she said. "They had fun. I kept asking them, honestly, if it was too much, if they wanted to stop, but they didn't. They were good. They were dedicated and wanted to finish the day."
For Morrish, though, the day was a bit more challenging, given the young age of her daughters.
"They still very much need constant assistance, like turning the mic on, turning the mic off, you know, fully understanding what they're doing," she said. "So I had to bounce back and forth between the two of them the whole entire time that they were online doing their school."
Candice Girard has two sons enrolled in a Catholic elementary school in the county. One is in Grade 6, the other is in Grade 2 and is in a special education program.
"There was a lot of anxiety this morning about going online, seeing the students, getting back to the computer," she told CBC News on Wednesday.
Teachers 'cautiously optimistic'
"Our school's done a great job at trying to communicate, sending stuff home before Christmas," Girard said. "But I feel for families that don't have devices."
Mario Spagnuolo, local president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which represents public elementary school teachers, said he's heard teachers say they're "cautiously optimistic" about the next few weeks.
"They're happy to see kids smiling faces on the camera," he said. "Kids are happy to see their friends and classmates as well."
"We're trying to make the best of a very bad situation," Spagnuolo said. "From what I'm hearing, most people obviously would like to be in class, but they get that safety comes first."
There have been some technological challenges, however, he said.
"I'm sure there are families that struggled in the first few hours to get them logged in," he said. "Sometimes systems need updates because you haven't used it, or software needs an update on your computer if you haven't used it in a while."
"So all of those things might have been an impact on today," Spagnuolo said. "Hopefully, tomorrow we can see more more kids get online."
Spagnuolo said the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) is trying to get technology to all families that require it.
Another issue was a lack of familiarity with the online learning platform. Spagnuolo said there has been "massive turnover" of teachers in the last 20 months, and some of the new teachers aren't as familiar with the system.
GECDSB spokesperson Scott Scantlebury said the board has learned from previous shifts to online learning.
Board providing technology
"It's been more like refining our practices, rather than re-inventing them," he said.
He said the board received a number of requests from families about learning technology on Wednesday.
"We do have some devices available at the moment at each school," he said. "Those will be distributed based on needs."
One other concern with the first day of virtual learning was attendance, with Spagnuolo hearing from teachers that some classes had 50 or 60 per cent attendance on Wednesday.
Scantlebury said he'd heard from principals that public school attendance, overall, was good on Wednesday, although numbers weren't available.
Girard said both of her sons are frustrated with the return to online learning.
"They've worn their masks," Girard said. "We didn't have large Christmases. There was no big gatherings. They feel like everything has been taken from them."
"School was a network where they got to see their friends," she said. "I can't believe how social my seven-year-old is, that he's got a boy posse and he's not going to see those kids. So I think they feel robbed."
"They're frustrated, and they're really also wondering when is the end?"
Part of the problem, Girard said, may be the model of online learning being used. She said she'd like to see it change based on the age of the student.
"As parents, we want limited screen time, and now to be pushing them to a screen for six hours is not realistic," she said. "It's not healthy."
Parents 'burnt out'
Girard would like to see more of an independent model, not dependent on a student — particularly younger ones — sitting at a screen.
And Girard, too, is feeling the stress of online learning.
"I'm a nurse in Detroit," she said, adding she's working less hours so she can be at home with her sons. "I'm thankful I have a great boss that's working with me. Most jobs don't have the flexibility, but I'm pulled both ways."
"I'm burnt out," Girard said. "I think all parents are burnt out. Being a nurse is very stressful these days."
"I commend teachers," she said.
Morrish said she plans to return to work next week, but her fiance is at home helping out, which makes things in their household a bit easier.
"[He's] kind of like a stay at home dad," she said. "So thankfully I have the extra hands for now in this situation."