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The back-to-school conflict

Karen Meissner, the WRDSB trustee for Woolwich-Wellesley, has been hearing from concerned parents. [Justine Fraser]

To go or not to go? That’s the question many parents are facing as schools reopen after another lockdown following the holidays.

WRDSB trustee and new NDP candidate for Kitchener-Conestoga Karen Meissner has received some feedback from parents worried about the challenges ahead as schools in Ontario stop reporting cases of COVID-19.

“Some families were having to make some tough decisions about whether they send their children back to school. If they have the opportunity to keep them home, what might that look like? I know there was a lot of folks who felt like they were put in a really tough spot in trying to make a decision. The number-one thing is everyone wants kids to be back in school, it’s not a question of that. A lot of people would have been more comfortable if some of those safety measures they had been relying on – the testing, contact tracing, cohort dismissals – if some of those measures were still in place. I’ve heard from some families they feel some of those tools were taken away from them.”

The majority of parents Meissner has heard from have told her they are more comfortable opting for remote or online learning in the meantime, as the local school boards try to navigate the constant changes.

“From a school board perspective, a lot of the changes that are coming down are challenging because they are often last-minute, and the board is hearing about them often at the same time the public is – that is often through the media or in some cases social media. The constant pivot has been a challenge,” said Meissner.

WRDSB has implemented a ‘short term virtual learning option’ for elementary students attending their schools that wish to continue with online learning. That will run from January 19 to February 11, providing weekly asynchronous lessons and activities. In a release, the board notes that it will welcome back students at any time.

The Waterloo Region Catholic School Board is discouraging families from continuing with online learning and aren’t providing asynchronous lessons and activities for elementary students.

In an update last week, the Catholic board said students will be able to opt for online learning with a commitment of two weeks at a time. After the Family Day weekend, the WCDSB will re-evaluate this strategy.

“I know that the ministry is providing N95 masks for staff, I don’t know what quantity we received them in or how long the allotment will last or if we’ll continue to get them. My understanding is families will receive two rapid tests when they return to school,” said Meissner. She noted that the masks they are getting from the province are for staff only, not students.

“Families have questions about air quality in the classrooms,” said Meissner. “All of the kindergarten classrooms have been provided with HEPA filters from the ministry.”

The WRDSB has sent two letters to the Ministry of Education, one was to request they provide N95 masks for students, the other was a request for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for staff or students.

Meissner noted that the constant changes can be a struggle for some parents to keep up with and many parents are facing the challenge of what to do when their child needs to isolate for five to 10 days.

“It’s 10 days for unvaccinated; it’s five days if you are fully vaccinated or under the age of 12, if you have symptoms, so I think some of that could be confusing – it’s really challenging for families to have to isolate over and over again. Kids in general tend to get sick a lot, especially when they are really young, so I think for families that could mean multiple occasions where you’re having to isolate as a family for the five days or the 10 days over and over again, which impacts families, their ability to go to work and everything.”

How the rest of the school year plays out remains in flux.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
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