Students across Simcoe Muskoka are preparing to head back to the virtual classroom Wednesday morning.
According to the Simcoe County District School Board, students will receive assigned coursework through a virtual learning platform for at least the next two weeks.
The decision to pivot to remote learning comes after the province reported record-breaking daily COVID-19 cases with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
On Monday, the provincial government announced several measures, including banning indoor dining, limiting capacity in businesses, and halting in-person learning.
The last-minute change of plans left many parents struggling to make arrangements.
“It has been challenging working while being home and trying to make sure they are being taken care of and they’re learning and doing what they need to do,” said mom Lindsay Henderson.
Meanwhile, other parents are left juggling their children while teaching a virtual classroom themselves.
Cameron Brown and his wife are both teachers in the Barrie area, and several times over the pandemic, they were forced to teach their classes from home while their elementary-aged children learn from the other room.
“It’s been a grind for both me and my colleagues,” said Brown. “[We] just trying to support one another and do the best for the students on the other end.”
Brown said the support from the board and the school has been beneficial but reverting to online learning also comes with its emotional challenges.
Meanwhile, pediatricians worry about the mental health of students forced to learn from home.
“I think we will see the impact of school closures for decades, and I truly believe this is a generational catastrophe,” said Dr. Michelle Gordon, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Gordon said since the pandemic began, there has been a 200 per cent increase in the number of children seeking mental health support.
“I don’t think we can overtake the harms to children, and I think there’s been a disproportional burden placed on our children during the pandemic,” she said via Zoom.
As Pediatricians grapple with students’ mental health, local schools boards are also looking to further protect children when they return to the classroom.
“The government has provided us an allocation of an additional 35 HEPA filters that we are expecting in the next couple weeks,” said Pauline Stevenson with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.
As schools await the eventual return of students, local boards said additional safety measures, such as air purifiers with HEPA filters, were being installed to help prevent further spread of the virus.
The Catholic school board said it anticipated about 40,000 N95 masks to arrive for staff this week.