Tired parents call for boycott of online classes as province shifts to virtual learning to fight COVID-19
There is growing evidence that parents are fed up with online learning in Ontario, with some calling for a boycott and “parent strikes” as the province moves to virtual classrooms for the third consecutive school year.
Whether they’re trying to send a message to the Doug Ford government or just keeping households sane, a number of parents tell CBC Toronto that when the virtual bells ring on Wednesday, their kids won’t be in front of the screen.
“We’re just not going to participate in a mandate that no longer makes sense to us,” Angie Tingas, a mother of four from Toronto, said in an interview. She was responding to Premier Doug Ford’s announcement on Monday that the province was moving classes online for at least two weeks as part of the province’s efforts to slow the spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.
While Ontario has relied more on remote learning than other jurisdictions, those calling for the boycott say the situation is different this time around.
Many parents hoped for COVID-19 vaccines – more than 85% of eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated and more school-aged children join this group – and other preventative measures, including filtration systems air, would keep their children in school all year round. This is especially important, several said, given the potential harm school closures cause to children, which is being seen first-hand in many households and increasingly being studied by experts.
Last year has not gone well for Tingas and her children and she informed their schools earlier this week that they would not be connecting to the virtual classroom.
“I feel like that’s the only outlet parents have to tell the government that we don’t agree with this shutdown,” Tingas said.
Hamilton mother-of-two Melisa Mariutti will stop her children from learning remotely and she’s trying to persuade others to do the same by creating and sharing posters online calling for a “parents’ strike”.
“It’s an opportunity for e-learning not to happen for these two weeks to show the government that we’re serious. It hurts us. It can’t happen again,” Mariutti said.
“We told our son he didn’t have to,” said Laura Jamieson, a mother of two in Orangeville. “It’s his choice.”
Jamieson says remote learning has been a struggle over the past year not just for her 10-year-old, but for the whole family.
“Every five minutes I was yelling, ‘Get online, you’re supposed to be online!’ We were at each other’s throats. Everyone was constantly yelling at each other,” Jamieson said.
Parents, especially those with young children, say it can be difficult to facilitate learning outside of the classroom structure, without the authority of an in-person teacher and in a house full of televisions , toys, siblings and other distractions.
They say a laid-back approach gets children away from the screen after dating, while being too heavy leads to conflict and stress for the child, parents and others at home. .
“You’re asking a lot,” said Tingas, who doesn’t think it’s healthy for a parent to take on the daily role of strict schoolteacher.
“We’re not those parents anymore. We’re not just going to yell at our kids to do what they’re told. Nobody’s going to blame their kid for not logging on. It’s not that generation,” a she declared.
The Ontario government says it recognizes what families are going through.
“We know that parents and students are facing great challenges in getting through this global pandemic,” Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, wrote in a statement to CBC News.
The statement notes that the government is focused on getting students back to class. For those struggling to learn remotely, academic and school-based mental health supports have been expanded.
None of the parents who spoke to CBC Toronto plan to give up on education altogether. Some will follow their own classes and schedules, while others say they will spend more time outdoors and focus on physical activity.
Dr. Ripudaman S. Minhas, a developmental pediatrician at Unity Health Toronto, says whether or not children participate in online school, it’s important for parents to help them adjust to their needs.
“We are moving from very rich in-person learning environments to distance learning or virtual learning. The impact on students can be very different. It depends on their age and level of development, their mental health,” Minhas said in an interview. .