This week the Ontario government announced that classes will return in person this fall.
The reactions I have heard to this news locally has run the gamut from it being too soon, to outrage over the fact that all students Grade 4 to 12 will have to wear a mask.
This question of whether or not to get students back to in person classes has been one of the hardest questions that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us with.
It challenges all of us too, not just parents. Our local health officials, school boards, and teachers too must face this issue, as do all of us as taxpayers.
The provincial government is investing an additional $300 million in masks, hygiene, and new nursing positions to help ensure the safety of students, parents, and staff.
Keeping our youth safe should be a top priority, and I don’t believe that there is a dollar amount that can be put on any human life, but is bringing students back to class the safest thing for them. Only time will tell. We are facing a new experiment here and no one knows for sure what the outcome will be.
For parents, I would think this must be an almost impossible decision to make. Weighing a child’s health over their social and intellectual development, as well as having to consider the strain of keeping them home on parents who work.
Ultimately, I think that the best choice for students is to have them back in class, but only if it can be made safe.
In announcing a return to in person classes in the fall, the provincial government also showed that they were going to great lengths to ensure safety from the pandemic within schools, but I feel that there are still issues yet to be resolved, and that they could have gone further.
For one, I feel that busing is not being properly addressed. Our two largest local school boards, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) have both released plans or drafts of plans for students to return to the classroom, but neither has yet addressed the issue of busing.
Elementary school students are expected to be back in class full-time five days a week, which means that they will need transportation to and from school five days a week. I’m sure it is possible to find some ways to socially distance students in some schools, but I don’t see how this could be possible on a school bus. Even with masks, I feel the risk is very high.
I know some sources have pointed out that elementary school aged children are less likely to suffer ill effects from the COVID-19 virus, however, this is a brand new virus that has been around for less than a year, can we really be sure we know everything yet and how it really affects young people. Also, even if youth are less affected by the COVID-19 virus, if they catch it, they can still spread it to their parents, grandparents, or someone they know who is immune-compromised who might not be able to withstand it.
When the provincial government first directed school boards to come up with plans for the fall back in June, they gave three options: 1) a full-time return to class. 2) splitting up classes and having students at school on alternate days and 3) back to learning online only.
I understand the need to get students back in class full-time, it takes a lot of pressure off of parents who are at work all day, but I was surprised that the government has not pushed for option two over option one.
I think that option two would provide the best scenario for the health and safety of students, while still giving them opportunities to have in class learning and “normal” socialization.
What do you think readers? Are you worried about students returning to class in the fall? Email me a Letter to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org