Educators, parents respond to Ontario’s plan for schools reopening next month

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—With local schools set to open on September 8, 2020, tensions are running high across the province. The need to return to work versus the risk of spreading COVID-19 has created a whirlwind of emotional responses from parents and educators across Haldimand County.

“The Provincial Governments’ plan does not do enough to address the health and safety issues related to sending children back to school in September,” said Lisa Rossi, Dunnville resident and Grade 1-2 teacher.

“The ‘COVID-19 Guidance for School Reopening’ document published by SickKids Hospital, upon which the provincial government heavily relies, posits that ‘smaller class sizes should be a priority strategy as it will aid in physical distancing and reduce potential spread’,” explained Rossi, who has been teaching since 2000. “However, the government recklessly disregards this recommendation by omitting this piece from their plan in favour of cherry picking only those recommendations which seem to be less costly for them to implement.”

In previous articles on negotiations between the government and teachers’ unions for education budgeting, some local teachers called for smaller class sizes as they had over 30 students per class. Rossi is anticipating a class size of 22 students this September, whereas the guidance from SickKids recommends a maximum of 10-15 students in a single classroom. Teaching students below Grade 4 means her students will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.

“Unless the provincial government changes its plan to leave class sizes as they were pre-COVID, I am personally worried about my own safety, and the safety of my students and co-workers. How will I safely interact with my aging parents or my adult children who are also in the workplace after spending every day in such close proximity to so many people?” questioned Rossi. She highlighted a section of the SickKids document that states one metre distancing “may approach the benefits of two metres”. Rossi doesn’t see how students could maintain even that distance: “There isn’t even enough space to distance my 22 students one metre apart in my classroom.”

Rossi does believe schools should open this fall, particularly to restore the sense of normalcy for families. However, she is adamant that the current plan is not enough: “Opening without reducing class sizes is simply irresponsible. We cannot afford to gamble with the lives of students, staff, or their families to whom we will all be returning at the end of each school day.”

Grand Erie District School Board plans to announce their specific plan for this school year by the end of this week.

The other side of this issue lies in the hands of local parents, who are now tasked with deciding whether or not to allow their children to return to a classroom this fall. The Press reached out via social media for some perspectives on this challenging issue. Here are some of the responses we received.

Ready to return

“I’m going to be sending my 5-year-old to school. She’s excited; she cannot wait to see her friends again. I’m not scared to send her. I trust that the school will do their part to keep the kids safe,” said Caledonia resident Nicole Meade.

“Mine are going; we work full time and we are teaching them about masks and safety. This virus will be around for a long time. If they are in a daycare it will be the same issue anyways. Just mixed with even younger children. We don’t have the luxury of keeping them home. At least classrooms have desks and kids are mostly calm and can listen to the teacher’s instruction,” said Sami Stir of Dunnville.

Concerned, but planning to return

“My son will be going into Grade 2. Am I concerned? Of course, but I am also concerned with his mental health and home schooling is not possible, as he also has sensory issues which make it even worse to try and do at home. He needs an education and by the looks of things the virus is not going away anytime soon, so how long do you keep kids out of school?” asked Shannyn Booth of Dunnville.

“I believe the kids need to go back to school, but I also have mixed feelings being a mom of a 6-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. I’m nervous to send my kids as not enough details have been announced on how they are going to protect the children. My daughter is special needs and I’m torn on what to do. If she gets sick, I’m not sure she could fight it. A common cold for her puts her out of school for weeks at a time I can’t imagine if she gets COVID-19,” said Tracy Horning.

“Considering we aren’t going to be following the recommendations of smaller class sizes and social distancing, I am terrified. I have no option but to send mine. If it were possible to keep them home, I would. I will not be surprised if cases soar and we end up in lockdown again,” said Alexandra Martin.

Keeping their kids home

“I think it is too soon. They are saying there will be a second wave. Things like lice and the flu spread like wildfire through schools. It will be the same with COVID,” said Caledonia resident Debbie Ferguson.

“I think I am going to keep my son home at the beginning to see how things go when students go back. If there are no issues during the return, I will send him back during one of the dates students who are homeschooled can return,” said Laura-Lee Addie of Dunnville.

A warning from Australia

“Born and raised in Caledonia, now living in Australia. Our ‘second wave’ is worse than the first, and we are back into lockdown, with schools closed and e-learning happening again,” said Rob Pringle. “Metropolitan Melbourne is facing the highest level of restrictions we have implemented, with nighttime curfews and additional closures beyond the March and April restrictions. When schools went back, 80 or so schools across the state of Victoria had to close due to covid cases – and the impact of those cases is probably only just being realized.”

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