EDITORIAL: Return to the classroom

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By Nick Seebruch
EDITORIAL: Return to the classroom

In less than one week most school age students will be back in the classroom. After two highly disruptive years, let’s hope that the 2021-2022 class of students get the chance to experience some normalcy, and a return to the activities that so many missed out on over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The loss of milestones like prom and graduation were an unfortunate necessity of the pandemic, but one who’s impacts I think many will feel for a long time. Now that we have a vaccine against this virus, let’s hope that these milestones can be re-introduced in a safe way.

As of Aug. 18, the province has approved the distribution of the Pfizer version of the COVID-19 vaccine to all youth born in 2009 or earlier. If your young one hasn’t received the vaccine yet, go out and get them the shot. Not only will it protect them, but also it will protect their peers and teachers around them and give them the best chance of having a normal school year.

While we see that light at the end of the tunnel that is a return to normalcy for our school aged youth, one feature of the pandemic that I fear will remain with us is remote learning.

I think that remote learning is a great option for kids who might not be able to succeed scholastically any other way, and that could be for a number of health or other pedagogical issues. What I don’t agree with is making remote learning a permanent option for any student who may want it whether they really require it or not.

My concern is that remote learning is currently the biggest threat that brick-and-mortar schools face. The one of the biggest expenses for any school board are the physical buildings that they own. Five years ago, our area witnessed as local school boards attempted to consolidate and close certain schools in the region due to low attendance rates. Schools like SJ McLeod Public School in South Glengarry were closed due to it having just a few dozen students.

I feel that if more and more students begin taking their education in a remote form only, that we will see a drop in attendance at regional schools and that boards will be very tempted to cut that big expense of owning buildings which will lead to school closures.

This worry is not farfetched either. No one less than Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) Chair John McAllister called the Ministry of Education’s expansion of remote learning options “a serious threat to small rural schools.”

More students going to school remotely also means less busing that’s required, which is another major expense for the school boards, one that is only growing thanks to rising gas prices.

While saving money on buses and buildings might be a big boon for school boards, I don’t know what they would do with those savings that would counteract what might be lost.

At the beginning of this column I talked about lost milestones over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Think about all of the other milestones and experiences that might be lost if a local, rural school is closed due to shrinking attendance thanks to remote learning.

Social interactions, events, sports all could be threatened if attendance at rural schools drops. Five years ago when the UCDSB was undergoing the process of consolidation and closing some rural schools, I heard from parents and community members who were concerned about what their local school closing would mean for their community. Parents explained that for rural communities like Alexandria, Williamstown, Ingleside and Lancaster that their rural school was a hub for their community. A place where their children can go and learn locally.

It is now important for parents to hold school boards and provincial politicians accountable to ensure that it is safe for their kids to return to the classroom and on their own parts they must get their children vaccinated and vigilantly screen them for any COVID symptoms.

I talked a lot in this column about a return to normalcy, but there are some after affects of this pandemic that we will be grappling with for a long time and remote learning is one of them.

What are your thoughts on remote learning? Email nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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