Editorial: Back To School - Its Worth The Risk
The summer is in its denouement and a return to schools is on the horizon.
Most years, the prospect of heading back to school would illicit excitement in the hearts of both children and their parents. Unfortunately, this isn’t most years.
Parents have struggled – in some cases are still struggling – about whether to homeschool, do remote learning, or send their kids back to the classroom. They must weigh the risk-reward of a potential COVID outbreak versus the mental, emotional, physical and developmental health of our children.
For many, the choice is simple: the children need to be in school. They need to engage in learning, they need to socialize with their peers, they need to feel somewhat “normal” again. Even if it is a normal that includes self-screening before leaving the house, wearing masks throughout the day, and being part of their school day cohort.
Sick Kids in Toronto developed a thorough report with all the reasons why children need to return to school and how to do so safely.
Key points of the report recommending the re-opening of schools include the low-rates at which children become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and perhaps more importantly, the ability for teachers and administration to monitor and support children/youth who are at risk of abuse, suicide and other dangers.
One passage from the document states: “Based on the evidence available at the present time and the current epidemiology, it is our view that the adverse impacts of school closure on children and youth significantly outweigh the current benefit of keeping schools closed in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in children, youth, school staff and the community at large.”
The full report can be found here: https://www.sickkids.ca/PDFs/About-SickKids/81407-COVID19-Recommendations-for-School-Reopening-SickKids.pdf
Of course, not every child will be able to return to school. Families with children or other who have health issues that make them extremely high-risk and vulnerable are literally faced with a life or death decision and I can’t imagine having to make that choice.
In this case, it’s the right move to keep your children home and either homeschool or, if possible, remote learning. The lack of quality internet services in many remote areas also comes into play; if you don’t have the technical capabilities to practice online learning, then your choices are limited.
However, the school board is offering paper materials for those who don’t have access to reliable internet, or any at all. Of course, this now puts an incredible amount of onus on the parents to be the teachers.
For parents like myself who work flexible hours, it’s not a as big an issue as for others. For those trying to work their fulltime day or night jobs and manage their children’s learning, well, it can be a substantial burden both emotionally and mentally. Financially too if they need to miss work.
DESPITE THE EXTRA RULES, KIDS ARE PUMPED
Yet, there still seems to be a distinct excitement amongst many children, despite the cloud of COVID sitting heavy above us all. All the children we have chatted with – including our own – are desperate to feel some sense of normalcy in their lives.
Even when explaining the rules such as having to wear a mask while indoors and the extra precautions needing to be taken, they are still pumped to get back to the learning environment they know and love.
All children will be required to wear masks indoors while being limited to spending time with their cohort. Families will need to do daily assessments of their children’s health to determine if any COVID symptoms exist.
There will be a staggered start with students only going one day the first week, three days the second, and then finally full time in the third.
Meanwhile, secondary school students will be on a “quadmester” schedule with a focus on completing two credits at a time.
The flow of information – much like the start to the school year – has been staggered and clarity is lacking. We still haven’t heard which day our children will be attending in the first week – and I usually know who their teachers will be by now.
Here is the most recent TLDSB back to school plan: https://www.tldsb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Return-to-School-Plan-for-TLDSB-Families-v5Aug26a.pdf
TEACHERS ARE ESSENTIAL, APPRECIATE THEM
This week, the Premier of Ontario Doug Ford blasted the teacher’s unions in the media. Although I don’t agree with those aggressive words and media tactics in the face of a pandemic, he did make a couple of decent points regarding essential workers across the country putting themselves at risk throughout this ordeal.
For the teachers I’m friends with and those who don’t know me: I consider what you do essential. You are needed for all the benefits discussed above that you will provide to our children.
You are needed at this time much like our healthcare workers – including my amazing wife who has been caring for people throughout. You are needed like we needed pharmacy, grocery, gas station and other workers to continue fighting through fear to do their jobs.
I understand there is much trepidation and an added demand on the teachers with the back to school plan. I don’t envy you and I demand that every single parent of a child going to school needs to be appreciative of the teachers putting their health at risk to do their job: just like we have for all essential workers in our communities.
There is an excellent argument to be made for smaller class sizes and I’m all for it. I hope the province and the school boards will take this into consideration when making their plans. I believe smaller class sizes should have been part of school well before the pandemic. But, that’s another editorial for another time.
I know it won’t be easy, but it is imperative for our children’s overall well-being that school starts up again. And it’s essential for parents of healthy children and healthy families to send them back.
By Chris Occhiuzzi, special to MuskokaOnline.com
When Chris isn’t writing stories for MuskokaOnline.com, Dockside Publishing or running MuskokaUnlimited.com, you can find him volunteering his time as a coach and board member for the Huntsville Soccer Club.