Eastern Ontario colleges and universities announce return dates for in-person learning

As Ontario announces the loosening of restrictions, colleges and universities across the region are confirming when students will be able to return to in-person learning.

The University of Ottawa will be the first in the national capital region to welcome all students back, with a return date set for Jan. 31. The resumption of in-class activities at Carleton University is set for Feb. 7. Queen's University in Kingston will be waiting until Feb. 28 before full in-person academics resumes.

For Algonquin College students in Ottawa, Pembroke, and Perth, the plan isn't as clear. Keltie Jones, Dean of Algonquin College's Pembroke campus, says there is a plan to examine a return to class following Algonquin's winter break at the end of February.

"We will be looking at what some of those options will be for bringing some of those more theory-based courses back to campus after our winter break," Jones tells CTV New Ottawa.

Algonquin College's Pembroke campus is unique in the fact that roughly two thirds of the college's 900 student population are still attending in-person classes in some capacity, according to Jones. That's due to the specifically hands on programs offered in the valley, such as carpentry and arborculture. 

But Samuel Beehler, a student enrolled in the Outdoor Adventure Naturalists program, says he has only attended virtual classes since returning this semester.

"We're doing wilderness first aid at the moment," explains Beehler. "And that's something that you're typically in-person for and working with dummies so that you can get a feel for how the human body works. And you can't do that virtually."

Without a date locked in for Algonquin College, Beehler is hoping that at least some of his time at college will be spend in a classroom.

"I hope we're able to get to a full classroom - not even without restrictions - just at least in the classroom rather than in your home in front of a computer screen."

"I think the most important thing is that we maintain our flexibility, we maintain our adaptability," says Jones about the plan to bring students back to campus. "And we keep the safety and learning conditions for our learners in mind for everything that we do."

Originally from Ottawa, Beehler lives in the student housing accommodations a few hundred metres from the school. He only stopped by Thursday to pick up a book for class.

"This is my time in college and I can guarantee you I'm not coming back here and the fact that I'm robbed of the college experience of being in there, it's upsetting."