By Mike Baker
A group of parents throughout the school district region were dismayed to learn last week that the Learn@Home program likely won’t be returning to Trillium Lakelands District School Board [TLDSB] for the 2021/22 school year, and have launched a petition in the hopes of extending at-home learning modules.
Kyra Evans is one of 16 parents currently sitting on the TLDSB Learn@Home parent council. She has spent months advocating for the program after watching her daughter “blossom” during her time learning at home.
“This has been like a detox period for her,” Evans said of her daughter, who is in Grade 6.
Having moved to Muskoka from Toronto four years ago, Evans said her daughter struggled after being enrolled in a private elementary school. She was, according to Evans, relentlessly bullied and eventually had to be pulled from the school. She started attending Riverside Public School in Huntsville last February and had a “positive experience,” but when COVID-19 hit one month later and schools were closed, she found herself back at square one.
When TLDSB launched its Learn@Home program in September, Evans thought she’d give it a shot.
“Almost immediately, my daughter formed connections with classmates and her teacher beyond what she experienced at in-person school,” Evans said. “Learning in a quiet environment provided her with greater concentration power, improving her grades and increasing her academic confidence.”
It was a blow then when, last week, Evans found out TLDSB isn’t planning to offer its Learn@Home program next year.
Wes Hahn, TLDSB director of education, sent a notice out to parents last Wednesday [March 17] stating the board was planning to reintegrate the approximately 1,500 students currently enrolled in Learn@Home back into the classroom.
“At this time our planning is going to be on the assumption that all students will be back in schools for in-person learning at the beginning of September,” Hahn said. “This means that all students will be enrolled for in-person at-school learning in their home school.”
Hahn said that at-home remote learning “may be considered” if school boards receive direction from the Ministry of Education, or if concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic are raised by public health officials.
Evans believes there’s another voice that should be taken into account – those of the students.
“Many of the children in my daughter’s class have shared with her that they have also been bullied in brick-and-mortar school. Thus, there are many like-minded kids, all happy to be in an environment where they don’t feel the need to watch their back all the time,” Evans said. “Anyone who was bullied in school remembers what it’s like to spend your days always on edge, waiting for the next incident in which you’ll need to defend yourself. When this level of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ is constantly on, it interferes with your ability to learn and grow.
“By contrast, at the Learn@Home program, my daughter has connected to her self-worth again. She has a newfound understanding that she has a lot to offer as a friend, and that in the past the problem was never her. The problem was the toxic environment she was in,” she added.
Evans said she has heard several similar stories from other parents in recent weeks and months. Since the Learn@Home parent council is not allowed to discuss any efforts to maintain the program in any official meeting capacity, the decision was made to launch a petition to get the word out there. As of press time, the petition had been signed by 43 individuals.
“Other larger, urban boards such as Ottawa and Toronto have announced their intention to keep the Learn@Home program, placing rural students at a distinct disadvantage. It’s our opinion that every student in Ontario should have access to virtual learning, regardless of their geographic location,” Evans said.
“The Learn@Home program has had myriad benefits beyond health and safety and therefore should be kept even after the pandemic is over.”
To learn more about the petition, visit you.leadnow.ca/petitions/save-learn-home-across-ontario.