BARRIE, ONT. -- Elementary students with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board will be introduced to a new hybrid learning model in all its schools next month.

The school board plans to blend in-class students with their virtual peers on Nov. 23.

Interim director of education Catherine McCullough said the past two months of two different teaching approaches had been a new experience that they expected would evolve.

"We have learned what works well and what needs to be adjusted," McCullough said. "We have an obligation to meet the needs of our families who want to make changes to their mode of learning, but we must do so in a way that is feasible and sustainable in the long-term. This model will make it easier for students to return to in-class learning."

The school board said close to 700 students have requested to switch their current learning method, either from remote to in-class or vice versa.

Joe Zerdin, board chair, said the new approach would reconnect virtual students with their in-class friends. "The fact is that we are going to be in this global pandemic for quite a bit longer, and I really believe that the introduction of this hybrid model is what we must do in order to provide sustainability and stability to carry us forward to the end of June and beyond, if necessary."

The school board said having sufficient staffing for the more than 3,300 remote learners has also been challenging.  "This hybrid model will relieve these pressures," it stated.

The school board previously announced the hybrid model for secondary students would start on Nov. 12.