Students in Niagara greeted with confusion and technical adversity after holiday break

The first week of online learning for Niagara students has been plagued with confusion and technical adversity for school boards, parents and students alike.

On Tuesday, Cogeco, an Internet service provider, announced on social media it was investigating an issue impacting availability of its internet services.

The investigation lasted for five hours. Cogeco confirmed on social media it resolved the issue at 3 p.m.

Carolyn LoConte, a communications officer with District School Board of Niagara, said in an email, “The DSBN uses Niagara Region Broadband Network. Under normal circumstances (in which students are learning in-person at school), we wouldn’t be affected by this outage. But with our students and staff at home, they’re using their own internet providers, which means that some are affected, and others are not.

“I’d also like to add that our students are provided with a mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning,” she added. “Students have learning materials that they can work on independently, meaning they don’t always have to rely on the internet.”

The after-effects of the outage have yet to be determined by students and school boards.

“This is an issue that is beyond the control of students and staff,” said LoConte. “We continue to remain flexible and adapt to situations like this as we do remote learning, and our teachers will continue to communicate with their students to ensure their learning stays on track, as they normally would.”

Tuesday’s internet issues were not the only concerns raised by parents and students.

In numerous Facebook groups, parents posted concerns about transitioning from in-class learning to online learning for elementary school students.

The biggest concern highlighted was communication.

LoConte said DSBN has been in regular contact with families.

“Last week, on Dec. 30, an email was sent to all families advising them of what they and their child could expect for the first day,” she said. “This message was shared on our website and our social media.

“This information was shared by school administrators as well.”

Niagara Catholic District School Board education director Camillo Cipriano said information was sent to all staff on Dec. 30, and to all families using the school messenger service on the same day.

“Within that communication, we advised that there would be no change for virtual students and that secondary students would be placed into a single cohort for the virtual period, learning synchronously Monday through Friday.”

Ontario went into a provincewide lockdown Dec. 26. Among restrictions, publicly funded elementary schools are closed until at least Jan. 11. Students are instead participating in remote, virtual learning during.

Another primary concern of parents is the use of technology and access to the internet.

Cipriano said Niagara Catholic has deployed 1,300 Chromebooks to students since the start of the school year.

“There is a limited supply of Chromebooks and tablets available for students to use during the virtual learning period,” he said. “Principals will allocate technology at their discretion during the weeklong virtual learning period, as they know their school communities and their needs best.”

For DSBN, LoConte said technology is available for all who require it, through the school principal.

“We will be loaning devices to families who need them. The information sent on Dec. 30 included how families go about borrowing a device.”

DSBN administrators reached out to families last week and started the device deployment process Monday.

As parents and school boards are left trying to navigate decisions handed down by the province, Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s education minister, confirmed the start dates for in-person learning at schools would not change.

Elementary school school students are set to return to class on Jan. 11 and secondary school students on Jan. 25.

Sean Vanderklis is a Niagara-based reporter for the Niagara Falls Review. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him via email: svanderklis@metroland.com