Petition launched against hybrid learning model for Catholic elementary students

SMCSB has said the current virtual model is not sustainable

A Springwater Township woman has launched a petition to get the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) to hit the brakes on a plan to move to a hybrid learning model for elementary students as of Nov. 23.

The model will see in-class students merged with virtual learners in the same class, under the direction of the homeschool classroom teacher.

Barb Belanger has a child in Grade 3 and another in Grade 4, and both are in-class. She says one of her kids needs extra attention and she wonders how that can be accomplished when the teacher is being asked to do double duty.

“He has an individualized education plan. If this teacher now has to do double duty, and in our school, in particular, it’s rural, so I am anticipating Wi-Fi issues. And her having to stand in front of a webcam, my child is going to get less time with his teacher. That time is already precious.”

Since the SMCDSB announced in mid-October a move to a hybrid model, there has been blowback from some parents and teachers.

The board sent a letter to staff and families on Friday that acknowledged there were concerns and encouraged them to offer their opinions and suggestions to an Elementary Hybrid Model Feedback Form.

The responses and others previously sent to the board will be reviewed by senior leadership officials, and based on the feedback, the letter states the team will assess all of the options.

The petition, which has been signed by nearly 1,400 people as of Monday afternoon, states the hybrid learning model presents a number of problems, both for in-class learners and remote learning.

“Problems include privacy issues, teacher burn out, and in a class that has already been difficult to find enough teaching minutes because of new physical distancing schedules, in-class learners will now have to compete with their teachers teaching online as well,” the petition reads. “Not to mention the reshuffle of current in-class learning and breaking of their current cohorts, put in place for our children’s health and safety.”

When the board announced the shift to a hybrid model beginning Nov. 23, then-Interim Executive Director Catherline McCullough explained the current virtual school model was not sustainable.

“We have received more requests to switch from in-class to virtual or vice-versa than we anticipated and we simply cannot accommodate these changes within our current model. We have an obligation to meet the needs of our families who want to make changes to their mode of learning, but we must do so in a way that is feasible and sustainable in the long-term. This model will make it easier for students to return to in-class learning.”

As of Oct. 28, the Board said it had received close to 700 requests for students to switch from in-class to virtual or vice versa for the Nov. 23 transition point, and added the number continues to rise daily. The Board said it is unable to adequately staff the virtual school, which at the time had more than 3,300 students. The Board said the hybrid model would relieve these pressures.

Belanger has nothing but praise for the teachers. She is concerned many aren’t versed on the online because they’re not doing it within the classroom to begin with.

She says many of her clients as a hairstylist are teachers and they tell her they are feeling the strain.

“This is the first time I see this crumbling. It’s just too much for them.”

The petition says parents have been supportive and patient, and blames the Board and government for letting them down.

“Our teachers have remained more positive than ever despite many many challenges, and our kids have inspired us with their resilience.”

The petition goes on to read, “We cannot survive on this model, and we cannot sacrifice our children and their teachers in order to “try it out” when we already see the effect in other areas of our province.”