The Gleaner
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Online learning going well, uncertainty and anxiety over in-person return a concern

Sarah Rennie
A return to online learning following the holidays may not have been the way most teachers, staff and parents had hoped to be starting the new year, but few can say they were surprised by the delayed entry.

According to New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) general director, Rob Buttars, the switch to learning from home for the majority of students went very well, with most logging in as planned on January 6. Emergency daycares are also up and running in elementary schools, with priority reserved for children of essential workers. Around 18 students with a high level of special needs are attending classes in person. “It is obviously not an ideal situation, but it is being implemented and going well,” says Buttars. Otherwise, the board is waiting for more directives from the government concerning the return to in-person learning, which, as of press time, was planned for January 17.

Buttars says he is concerned about the anxiety that a return on that date may cause when the media is using words like “tsunami” to describe the current situation. “That’s going to be a hard message to swallow,” he says, admitting he is fairly confident that any announcement by the government to send students back next week will be met by a lot of push-back. “People are discouraged,” he acknowledges, suggesting that while they know the importance of going back to in-person learning, they are also keenly aware of how serious the situation is at this time. “We are sitting tight, asking people to stay calm, stay safe, and to do their best to support their students with online learning,” he says, while asking parents to stay tuned for any updates and to stay positive.

In-person learning a priority for teachers

Nick Ross, the president of the Chateauguay Valley Teachers’ Association, says that while the move to teaching online was abrupt, teachers were more prepared this time. And while they are up to the task, he says they would much prefer to be teaching “normally.”

“In the Valley, the schools are the hubs of the communities and safe places with caring employees that act as caregivers for many of the vulnerable students,” he explains, noting a growing number of experts are weighing in on the detrimental effects online learning is having on this generation of children. “If everyone in the schools follows the sanitary measures and stays home when they are feeling ill then I think we should be able to turn this corner sooner rather than later,” he adds.

Staff shortages a concern

As of January 7, Buttars says he was aware of about a dozen staff members who had tested positive over the holidays, but he says this is not an accurate number and he fully expects it to increase. “Fortunately, not many of our staff are very ill, which is encouraging,” he says. At the same time, he is concerned that the government does not have an accurate picture of the situation on the ground in schools across the province, especially with teachers only gaining priority access to PCR tests on January 15.

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