TORONTO - Students across Ontario began online learning Monday, more than three weeks after COVID-19 shuttered schools in the name of physical distancing.

Teachers will lead the effort with both live and pre-recorded lessons, but some parents said the move is already posing challenges nonetheless.

The Ministry of Education has said that e-learning cannot fully replace the in-class experience, so the goal is to help students continue their education as much as possible during the pandemic.

Crystal Bevens-LeBlanc, a parent of two in Kingston, Ont., said she has concerns about distance learning. She praised teachers from her local school board, but said there are still children who won't succeed in this format, like her son in Grade 9.

"He is a special needs student who already struggles in a typical classroom," she said. "To be expected to do things independently at home with no support, it's just not going to happen really."

Bevens-LeBlanc said teachers have posted online assignments, responded quickly to questions from her children and also promised to support students through online meetings.

But parents are also struggling to learning the how to navigate the online tools, she said.

"It's Day One, so a lot of parents are trying to figure out how to navigate Google Classroom," she said. "Right now, we're in the learning stage."

Anna Galati, a single parent of two in Toronto, said she is also concerned with the government's distance learning plan, saying the online component won't work for her family.

Galati said she continues to work in a job that's considered an essential service and her mother cares for the children, one of whom has special needs, during the day.

"For me, I've just had to say to the school, this isn't working for my family," she said. "I can't put added stress on my kids right now. They're already going through this emotional trauma."

Galati said she feels guilty, but knows that this situation isn't a great fit for families who can't help their children through the activities.

"For me, I'm not home with them," she said. "I can't guide them along. ... The teachers have come up with great ideas, they just don't fit every family."

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said many parents are feeling the way Galati is, and the government needs to stress that extra effort will be made to catch kids up when they eventually return to the classroom.

"Where you have parents who are doing their best just to keep things running, which is a reasonable goal under these circumstances, we can't have them stressing out over the fact that they're not able to conduct some kind of distance learning," Harvey Bischof said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce is asking parents to help the youngest of students through the transition, even as many are working from home.

The president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, meanwhile, has said school boards have been hearing from parents in recent weeks that they need help teaching their children at home.

Cathy Abraham said every board in the province has been crafting a local plan to address the needs of students who may not have access to the internet, computers or tablets, or whose parents may not have time to oversee their schooling.

The ministry is recommending elementary students spend between five and 10 hours on learning per week, depending on their age.

High school students, it says, should spend three hours per course per week if they're on a semestered system, or half of that if their schedule isn't split into semesters.

Lecce has said that students on track to graduate won't be delayed due to the pandemic.

But schools will remain closed to students until at least May 4, the government has said. Schools were initially shuttered for just the two weeks following March break, but the continued spread of the novel coronavirus forced an extension.

In a letter to parents, the union representing Ontario's elementary school teachers is urging patience as everyone adapts to the new reality.

"Keep in mind that we are learning about how to do this right along with you," the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Recommended for you