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Ontario Has No Clear Answers On Delayed March Break

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Ontario's Students And Educators Need A Break

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Ontario Mulls Second Delay To March Break, Drives More Stress

Apparently, Ontario's public and separate school educators can simply go on forever.

While nothing has been outwardly stated, there are no clear answers as to whether the delayed March break - now set to begin April 12 - will actually happen, but there are a whole lot of rumors. Chief among these rumors, as has been the case for a few weeks now, is that students are simply not returning to their classrooms after the break, as happened when the COVID-19 pandemic first gained steam. The possibility of this happening again is causing parents and older students a great deal of worry. My own children have reacted very unhappily at the thought that we might end up going online again, and I know several parents who feel the same way. In case you haven't guessed it yet, I'm one of those parents.

A recent letter emailed to parents from the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board is doing little to quell those rumors. While nothing has been confirmed or reported in the media, the letter asks parents to have a plan in place in the event schools need to close because they can't be safely staffed due to staffing shortages posed by the pandemic. While not directly linked to what could happen following this delayed March break, this has helped fuel some of the rumors that students will be remaining at home following the break.

The more upsetting rumor is that the break might be delayed yet again in order to prevent travel and mass congregation by students and their families. I know I wrote a blog some time ago indicating that I didn't realize educators had the power to prevent travel - because, you know, families have never planned vacations during the school year, ever - but apparently, the Ford government in Ontario is possibly convinced delaying a much-needed break that has already been delayed once will immediately stop students and their families from doing as they see fit.

So. Post-secondary students and staff can have their Reading Week. Don't fool yourself into thinking all post-secondary kids have stayed home to study online; many are on campus or near it to have as close to a post-secondary experience as they possibly can, so they are moving between their parents' house and wherever they live when going to post-secondary school. Private school students and staff can have their spring break without issue, as can the provincial government itself.

However, the public and separate school systems may see theirs delayed yet again because somehow, keeping kids in school with no break in sight will stop COVID from spreading. Somehow, those at the post-secondary level and in private schools can go and have a break, but the public and separate levels can't.

As stated earlier, we might also see none of us returning after the delayed March break - no one seems to know, but boy, those rumors are sure prevalent! None of them are particularly helpful, either, especially if you have children of any age. Little kids aren't designed by their nature to stay on screens or in one spot any length of time, and they sure aren't designed to keep going without a break. They need to play, actively, and not be in school without any sort of break throughout the year.

Preteens and teens also need a break on occasion, and there seems to be this illusion touted by Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce that students have somehow lost time because they were "off" from early January to mid-February. I can assure you that all students were trying to learn online, while their teachers were doing everything they could to keep them engaged and learning. I know because in addition to doing my own teaching job, I was trying to keep my own kids on task and motivated, which is hard to do when the government has basically given everyone so little to look forward to except for mixed messaging and last-minute decisions.

Educators also need a break. The endless pivoting between online and in-class learning has been wearing, both for students and for educators. Being in front of a screen and trying to keep everyone motivated while also trying to be mindful of their mental health and ours as well as being aware of the myriad policies that continue to crop up - all of which we need to be familiar with - is sapping energy. Doing this takes a lot of focus and knowledge and patience as technology fails. Doing this when you might not be comfortable in working with technology can also be exhausting, and while educators, as they always do, are trying to work mightily to get their students through this, they need time to reset, as their colleagues in other educational fields have done.

To expect the public and separate school systems to continue to operate with no break for their educators or their students when other educational systems have had that time is inequitable. To expect kids and educators to do well if we transition back online again is also inequitable, as we saw last March when this roller coaster first started.

I don't have the answers, but I do know if people in the public and separate school systems don't get a chance to recharge their batteries soon, there will be students and educators stretched thinner than they ever have been, and I don't think anyone wants to see what happens when either students or educators snap because of the sustained pressure. That will spark a health crisis of a whole different nature, and it's one for which we may not be prepared.

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