By Pauline Kerr
The countdown is on!
One month remains in the longest summer holiday our youngsters have ever known – or maybe not.
School boards across the province have been told to prepare for three scenarios. One is a full return to classes, likely involving masks and other safety measures. The second is a continuation of online learning similar to what took place in the spring. The third is a hybrid model, with a partial return to classes and a continuation of some online learning.
Back to the classroom or not, part-time or full-time, online or something else – Ontario’s parents, children and school boards are desperate for an answer. There are financial issues to consider, jobs at stake.
The province has promised an answer in August about which model – or models, if the province takes a regional approach as it did with reopening businesses – will be selected.
The reasons for delaying a decision as long as possible are complex – the COVID-19 situation changes almost by the hour. A community can be COVID-free for weeks, then have a spike in new cases. Discoveries about how the virus operates, that may change the way authorities respond to it, are happening constantly.
The pandemic is not occurring in a vacuum. Racial tensions are growing in communities on this side of the 49th as well as south of it. Weather this summer has been peculiar, to say the least; tornadoes are not coming one at a time but in destructive and frightening clusters. Relationships Canada has with both China and the United States have been strained. As if that were not enough, the world’s economy is a mess. Of course, the province wants to keep its options open.
No one wants to take chances with our children’s health. At home, they are safe, and there is an understandable temptation to stick with the status quo, especially in the face of the second wave of COVID that is expected this fall. Some parents are toying with the idea of home schooling their children no matter what the province decides.
Having younger children at home for most of the week, whether it is the parents’ decision or the province’s, requires an adult to be home with them. That is not an option in a lot of families, and even when it is, it requires a lot of planning and weighing of options.
Provincial authorities are hesitant to make a decision that will force people to close businesses and quit jobs to stay home with their kids. Ontario’s economy needs to be firing on all cylinders for years to come, to make up for pandemic losses. That means getting people back to work.
They are even more hesitant to make decisions that will put children’s health at risk.
There are risks attached to keeping them out of the classroom for a few more months, too. While some children will keep up with the work no matter what form education takes, others will fall behind or drop out without special help. This sets them up for a lifetime of marginal employment and the health and mental health issues that go with it.
There are a good many of us who credit a caring teacher with making a world of difference in our lives. The lessons our children learn in the classroom go far beyond reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Teachers inspire us, challenge us and help us over the occasional rough patch. Friends and classmates teach us how to prosper in a group setting, how to share both ideas and materials, and how to co-operate with others.
The boards need to know if they have to hire additional staff or purchase extra materials. The fact is, school boards do not have extra cash to play with and all three options have financial ramifications.
Entry into stage three has led some employers to contact laid-off staff to find out who is coming back. Before people commit to return to work, they need to know what will happen with the kids.
It is decision time.