'We responded too quickly,' Changes to Simcoe Muskoka Catholic virtual school on hold

After parents and students expressed concern and frustration over the proposed transition to a hybrid model for elementary schools, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic board hit the pause button.

The decision was made Wednesday night as officials promised to review plans and determine the best way forward as it struggles to deal with what it calls unsustainable logistical issues.

Superintendent of education Kim Weishar said at a board meeting Wednesday night that the past few months have been stressful for everyone, given all the educational changes.

"It was never our intent to add to that anxiety with our decision to move to a hybrid learning model. In fact, our intent was the exact opposite," she told board trustees.

The board said the current model wasn't viable for the long run. It cited staffing insufficiencies for the nearly 3,300 remote students and hundreds of students' requests to switch their current learning method with cases of COVID-19 fluctuating as hurdles moving forward, saying the hybrid model would alleviate those challenges.

The proposed hybrid learning model would blend in-class students with virtual-learning students later this month.

But some parents were unhappy with the potential changes.

Wednesday night, with more than 100 parents and teachers protesting outside the school board's Barrie office, officials agreed to hold off on implementing the hybrid learning plan pending further consultation.

"I'm very glad they listened to the advocates themselves - the children, who were the most important voices," said parent Natalie King.

"If they implement the hybrid, you're going to have a great number of parents who are going to pull their children, which will decrease the provincial funding," she said.

King said the school board needs to seek assurances from parents committed to the remote learning model to ensure its viability and staffing certainty.

Weishar said the parent's concerns were heard.

"Since making our announcement last Wednesday, we have heard quite clearly that our decision, as well-intended as it was, has caused much frustration and anxiety. For that, I do sincerely apologize," she said.

Weishar said the school board has been working with an ever-changing landscape since schools closed in March and said, "we need a path forward that's not reactionary."

Weishar went on to say that with so much uncertainty, a plan still needs to be put into motion to provide long-term stability and prevent further disruption and stress.

"We need to be proactive. We need a plan that will take us through to June and beyond because we simply don't know how long the effects of COVID-19 are going to impact teaching and learning," she said.

The board will report to trustees on Nov. 25, with a plan to move forward with what it calls a stable and sustainable solution, which Weishar said would include keeping "some form of the virtual school in place."

With files from CTV's Mike Arsalides