Tough to see schools switch to virtual learning, but it's understandable

Since the 2020-21 school year began in September, many people have been wondering when, not if, the two school divisions in southeast Saskatchewan would have to eventually return to online learning.

We now have our answer. It took seven months.

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And while they’re scheduled to return to in-person learning before the end of April, that’s not a guarantee.

Just before spring break, the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation called for two weeks of virtual learning across the province following the Easter break, due to the rising number of COVID-19 variant cases. While most of those cases have been in Regina, we’ve had more than our fair share in southeast Saskatchewan.

South East Zone 4, which has likely done the best job of navigating the pandemic during the past 13 months, recently eclipsed the 40 active case count for the first time. As of Wednesday, it was at 50. 

And a few schools in the South East Cornerstone Public School Division have now had outbreaks.

It’s a hard sell for Cornerstone and the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division to move to virtual learning after the break, and a lot of people weren't happy, but you can understand why the division did it.

Regina’s school divisions have moved to online learning, as have others in the southern part of the province.

A lot of parents were griping locally after the decision was made. A case was previously diagnosed at the Estevan Comprehensive School, and it was the first reported case in several months at the school. Several more cases have been diagnosed. 

And you can be sure parents weren’t happy in other areas that haven’t had a case of COVID-19 in their schools.

This week could help justify the school boards’ decision. If the case count continues to climb throughout the southeast region, and if we continue to see more cases of the variant, then it might be for the best that students are learning virtually.

South East Cornerstone is a sprawling school division, so you’re going to have areas that are much harder hit than others.

But at least the school divisions provided advanced notice. People knew 10 days prior. That’s not going to provide much consolation for households in which working from home isn't an option for parents.

But the frustration likely would have been amplified if Cornerstone would have said on a Friday that virtual learning would begin on Monday. 

Toronto didn't give parents 24 hours notice that they were shutting down schools. 

Hopefully people will be smart enough to not take their anger out on teachers. Teachers deserve a lot of credit for how they have handled the past 13 months. They’ve had to handle a year rife with unpredictability due to the pandemic. They had to adapt.

Those in areas with higher case counts have had even more uncertainty, as they try to grasp whether they’re going to have to move to online learning for their class, for their grade or even for their school. 

They’ve had to think about the things you never would have heard about in teacher’s school, such as social distancing, adequate spacing between desks, and a myriad of other challenges.

They’ve more than earned their keep.

Students also deserve a lot of credit for how they have handled this year, especially since so many of the opportunities they’re used to having didn’t exist this year.

As for the teachers’ federation’s call to have a province-wide shift to online learning, it’s easy to call for that in Regina, with all of the variant cases. It’s a lot harder to do it in, say, the far southwest corner of the province, which recently had a prolonged stretch without a new case, or in the far north, which has seen a considerable drop in its case count in the past month.

Hopefully the shift to online learning is brief, and the students are back in the classroom before the end of April. After all, the overall learning experience for most will be better in the classroom than through a virtual format.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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