BARRIE, ONT. -- Parents and some students gathered in the cold Monday outside the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board in Barrie to protest the new hybrid learning model announced last week.

Grade 4 online student Matthew participated in the rally and said he's enjoying his virtual experience. "I'm here because I want to save my virtual school because virtual school rocks, and why fix what's not broken?"

The school board plans to blend in-class students with virtual students later this month.

According to the board, having sufficient staff for the more than 3,300 remote students has been challenging, plus hundreds of students have requested to switch their current learning method. The board said moving to the hybrid model would help with those hurdles.

But many parents said they aren't happy with the decision.

"We're quite honestly devastated," said parent Lisa Hagen. "The virtual school is the only opportunity our kids have to interact with other people and to take that away from us is devastating," she said.

Interim director of education Catherine McCullough said the current model isn't sustainable but said the board is listening to parents' concerns. "Please know that this was an extremely difficult decision to make during complicated times, amid a global pandemic.

"Your opinions are important, and they are valued. I do know that we all have one thing in common, and that is that the best interest of the children is at the centre of our care and concern," she stated in a letter to parents.

The board said it would have a better idea of how the hybrid model will move forward after Wednesday and will notify parents and staff.