Parents happy to see their children back in the classroom, but it doesn’t come without concern

January 27, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Rob Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Students across Ontario returned to the classroom last week after initially being set to return January 5 after the holiday break. The return was delayed due to the increase in COVID-19 cases as a result of the Omicron variant.

The decision to have students return the week of January 17 was announced by Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, on January 12 alongside Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.

Lecce also announced that to ensure safety upon the return to school for students and staff there would be increased protections.

The current requirement with the return to school for students is for those in Grades 1 to 12 to wear a cloth or medical mask with masking recommended for kindergarten students. Along with the government stating it will expand access to free high-quality three-ply cloth masks and that education staff will be provided with the option of a non-fit-tested N95 mask, there were 11 million rapid antigen screening tests administered to public schools.

Each student was able to take home a five pack prior to the holiday break with more being committed to schools. The commitment includes two rapid antigen tests for every elementary and secondary student, child in childcare and staff members in both settings to support the reopening—for use when symptomatic.

The pandemic has disrupted schools in Ontario for an unprecedented amount of time. From March 14, 2020, to May 15, 2021, schools in Ontario were closed—20 weeks total, which was longer than any other province or territory in Canada.

In September, students were finally able to return to the classroom as the pandemic slowed and vaccination coverage increased, but with the announcement of the delayed return after the holiday break, worry increased that students may be back to remote learning for an unknown amount of time.

Ultimately, after two weeks of remote learning, Lecce made his announcement, which was welcomed with relief by parents across Caledon.

“I’m happy they are finally back and hope the staff can stay healthy enough to remain open,” said Sandra Genova-Gaffiero. “My kids are much happier being at school and learn much better.”

The hands-off learning that has come with remote schooling has put many students in a tougher position to stay engaged in their work and reach out for help when they need it because of the lack of human interaction that comes with communicating solely through technology.

“My kids are very happy that they are back to in person schooling, they don’t like online school,” Lilya Lilya said. “My two younger ones needed a lot of help when they were online. My daughter was very nervous when she was doing online because she needed a lot of help.”

One of the most frequently referenced downsides of remote learning has been the demise of the social aspect of school. With online learning students have lost the ability to keep in touch and play with their friends, having that back has been an immeasurable bonus to being in the classroom again.

“From the mind frame of a five-and-a-half-year-old girl since sometimes many forget the mental health part of COVID for kids… my granddaughter came home from school today and asked me to write letters to her two teachers, each about how happy she was to be back to class and see them and be able to play with her friends and looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow, she signed them with love,” said Deborah Dodd-Morson.

Though many students have returned to the classroom, circumstances aren’t the same for all students. Issues have arisen for those who remain in remote settings with far less focus now being given to that option of schooling.

“Online teachers are absent to teach in person and my son, who is autistic, just got an iPad a week ago to learn and his teacher keeps being pulled to teach in person,” said Suzi Juliao. “And we have no drama, gym, support, and no teacher because they were all in person. I guess online kids don’t matter.”

Concerns over the lack of spacing in schools and having someone within your family who is higher risk has been something that has kept some families from wanting their children back into the classroom so hastily without boosters available to them yet.

“We are not sending our teen back to Mayfield to finish the semester,” Fiona Louise said. “Schools are not safe, and Mayfield has a very large student population who all share the same lunch. Plus, I just started chemotherapy. Also, teens who are double-vaccinated have not been given the okay for boosters yet, and my teen is post six months, therefore immunity is waning.”

Overall, many students have struggled not only with learning through remote schooling, but with the increased ware on their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Parents are hopeful that with them back in the classroom and around friends again it will help them with their mental health.

“Personally, I am glad the kids are back in school,” said Nicole Brodeur. “I have a child in Grade 11 and one in Grade 8. Both struggled academically with online school. They do much better in person, they need the interaction with teachers and peers, and they are more accountable as well with their work within person learning.

“Also, my older child has had bouts of depression in Grade 10 and11 from the lockdowns and isolation with little in person school. My youngest also, for almost a year, has been struggling with depression too. Their mental health has been greatly affected by this. I think the pros of kids being in school outweighs the cons.”

Some parents are happy that their children are back into the classroom, but still question the situation due to a lack of increased safety measures despite the transmissibility of the Omicron variant being so high.

One of the most anxiety-inducing parts of the return for families has been the issue with COVID-19 test availability, or lack thereof.

“I’m glad my kids are back; online school went okay and both kids for the most part enjoyed it, which is due to how much effort their teachers put into making the platform work as well as it can,” said Amanda Simpson. “But as a parent, I found my role in online incredibly exhausting.

“That said, I’m super frustrated with the safety measures. Why do kindergarten classes and Grade 1 classes at James Bolton have HEPA filters in the rooms but somehow the second graders on up don’t require them? What is actually happening with these masks we heard about for children, that I’ve never even seen?

“And the lack of testing options is, quite frankly, appalling,” she said. “It risks in-person schooling to leave families with so little access to testing when needed. I’m constantly seeing people in local groups begging for tests if anyone has any—this is no way to be dealing with the testing situation.”

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