School start with COVID proves tough choice for parents

With the start of school there are always jitters and changes for students and for parents. This year has been compounded by the biggest pandemic in several generations: COVID-19. In fact, at the time writing this, there are still shifting dates for online courses that are making the process even more complicated for parents. Schools are scrambling to do in a couple of weeks, what normally takes the whole summer: assign teachers, create classes and organize curriculum changes.

As Ontario regresses in its collective action to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the new daily numbers rise to over 300 and 400 from a low of 100 per day, Ford’s government has reduced the number of people that can congregate indoors to 10. This begs the question why class sizes of 25 or more students or why over 50 students on a school bus is considered safe.

Not all parents work remotely. Not all families can self isolate at home. Canada has no paid sick days for temporary and contract workers and tenant evictions have started again. This combination creates significant pressures on parents, guardians, and families.

Neighbourhoods that are more marginalized have higher rates of infection. As a result, significant numbers of people in our neighbourhood have decided to keep their kids at home in the area. While the average number of in class students for the Toronto District School Board as a whole was around 75% earlier in the week, in some local schools like, Yorkwoods Public School, the number is as high as 47%. Many parents are too concerned to send their kids to school.
Local mom, Agnes, is concerned about sending her kids back to school. (Photo credit: Matias De Dovitiis)

Local mom, Agnes, is concerned about sending her kids back to school. (Photo credit: Matias De Dovitiis)

Agnes lives in the area but is very worried about her decision. She has two boys, one in grade 7 and one in grade 11, and she decided to send both of them to school. “It’s tough. They are taking transit. We are not reducing class size. We are living in a panic attack, but you don’t want your kids to stay on a device all day. The long term effects of them being in front of a screen 24/7 are very concerning for me. It has been too long. I feel that they need to be supervised and that they are not learning if they stay home.”

None of this needed to be as chaotic, but there has been no direction given from the Ontario Government through the Ministry of Education. Fresh from their fight with teachers over contract negotiations in the winter, it seems that the Provincial government was too firmly encased in battle mode to realize what was obvious to everyone outside the Queen’s Park bubble: without hiring more teachers opening schools would lead to significant increased risk exposure for children and teachers.

Keeping students at home in isolation is not always possible. Sending them to school may put them at risk or risk people at home who may be vulnerable. This fall semester is going to be tough for parents and due to a lack of preparation by the government now all we can do is hope for the best.

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