Parents frustrated they can't switch students to online learning as COVID-19 cases rise

A new school year begins next week, leaving some parents in Simcoe County feeling frustrated that they can't switch their children to virtual learning as COVID-19 cases climb.

"We cautiously decided to put them back in class for September. Cases were dropping significantly, so it looked promising," said parent Nikki Herdman.

With her three children too young to get vaccinated, Herdman said she changed her mind about sending them to school, only to be told 'no' by the Simcoe County District School Board.

"It doesn't feel fair to parents, and it doesn't feel fair to teachers who are going to be thrown into the crosshairs," Herdman said.

The Simcoe County District School Board's Return To School letter to parents states that they had until the end of June to decide whether to enrol their children in online learning.

It reads in part, "New requests or changes to learning mode for September 2021 are not being accepted. Families who did not submit a request for Learn@Home and any new registrations will begin the 2021- 2022 school year as an in-person learner.

Requests for asynchronous learning with your child's in-school teacher should be made through the school when offices reopen the week of August 30."

For secondary schools, the board said changes from in-person to remote couldn't be made until the start of Semester 2 in February.

However, it's not an option for Herdman.

"All three are in French immersion, so I speak French based on what I learned in elementary school, which is not a lot," she said.

Other parents are expressing similar frustrations, saying they needed more time to make a decision.

"How could we possibly know in June," said Nicole Hedges. "I had the virus in November, and I had long-haul symptoms. I am just getting back on my feet, so I don't want my kids having that."

The decision deadline was also in June for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

The Catholic board told CTV News that decisions made by parents at that time are now locked in for the entire year.

Still, doctors say being back in school is safe.

The past president of the Ontario Medical Association pointed to vaccines and improvements to ventilation systems.

"As a general rule, kids themselves don't tend to get very bad cases of COVID. It's really rare to see kids under 18 get a serious case," said Dr. Sohail Gandhi.