Some feel they have no choice but to send their child back in the fall
By Diego Flammini
Ontario schools are set to welcome students in less than a month and parents across the province are trying to decide how to proceed as COVID-19 continues to loom.
The provincial government’s fall back-to-school plan for elementary students includes in-class instruction five days a week. Students in Grades 4 to 8 and school staff will be required to wear face masks.
Most secondary schools will start the school year with a mix of in-class and online learning. Students in Grades 9 to 12 and staff will also have to wear masks.
School boards are required to offer remote-learning options for students and Premier Ford’s government has also committed to spending more than $300 million to help Ontario schools operate safely.
Some parents, however, are skeptical schools will be able to enforce some of the protocols set out by the provincial government.
“Schools have a hard enough time controlling lice, or the flu, or pink eye,” Anne Hawkins, a beef producer from Perth County, told Farms.com. “How are they going to control COVID-19 when you’ve got little ones who don’t understand masks or distancing?”
Hawkins’s daughter will be starting third grade in September, so she won’t be required to wear a face mask.
Hawkins has thought about not sending her daughter to school, but the infrastructure isn’t in place in her community to allow for a successful online-learning experience.
“My daughter needs her education, but the Internet here isn’t so reliable,” she said. “And on top of learning, being in the classroom helps her develop social skills with other kids. But then I’m worried about COVID-19. So, what am I supposed to do? We’re all just kind of stuck.”
Other parents are giving the government the benefit of the doubt during these unprecedented times.
“I think they’re doing the best they can, and I think we’ve got to take a wait-and-see approach to all of this,” Cathy Hendriks, a beef producer from Bruce County, told Farms.com.
Hendriks has a daughter going into Grade 11 this fall and she will be required to wear a face mask while at school.
Hendriks plans on sending her child to school for in-class instruction as much as possible, knowing the school year could change quickly.
“I think (my daughter) is going to go as normal,” she said. “But we have to realize that the year could start out one way in September and be totally different within a month depending on how things go.”
Educators, however, aren’t on board with the government’s plan.
It is underfunded and lacks the necessary protocols to ensure safety in schools, said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
“This plan is an insult to every student, every parent and every educator in the province of Ontario,” he said in a statement. “The Ford government has had four months to come up with a serious strategy – four months to consult, to plan, and to allocate appropriate resources to ensure a safe return to school in September.
“It’s clear from (the July 30 announcement) that they have squandered that time.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens have also voiced concerns with the back-to-school plan.