By Chad Ingram
Next week will mark the much-anticipated, stress-inducing, anxiety-ridden return of students, or at least some students, to classrooms in Ontario.
I don’t think those terms are hyperbolic. For most of the parents I know, the decision to send their children physically back to school or opt for an online learning option during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult one to grapple with. Certainly some are choosing to keep their kids at home, while board-wise, throughout the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, it seems like some 85 per cent of students are planning to return to physical classrooms this month.
At an Aug. 25 meeting, trustees of the TLDSB made a decision that face masks would be required for all students returning to school, kindergarten through Grade 12, while at school and on the bus. Previously, while face masks were being recommended for all students, the requirements were going to be those laid out by the province – mandatory face masks for students in Grade 4 and up.
Last week’s decision by the board was a poor one, or at least poorly timed. The proclamation that all students, even the wee ones, would be required to wear face masks came after the school re-registration deadline of Aug. 17. That’s problematic, and frankly unfair to the parents of the board’s youngest students. There’s a good chance that for some, knowing their kindergartener would not be made to wear a mask had played some factor in their decision.
As I’ve written in this space a few times recently, I’m grateful that my wife and I still have a year before our eldest child enters kindergarten. I’m not envious of any parents making back-to-school choices, and I’m particularly unenvious of those who’ve had to decide if they would enrol their kindergarten-aged kids.
To her credit, Evangeline, our three-year-old daughter, has been very good with the face mask thing. When we are in places where they are required, she puts hers on, and keeps it on, without any fuss. She understands there is global pandemic happening – or at least that “everybody is sick” – and is happy to don a face mask when she sees Mommy and Daddy doing it. I’m not so sure, however, how she’d react to a stranger – her new teacher – telling her she needs to put a mask on.
The decision is also impractical. Best of luck to kindergarten teachers trying to keep masks on a bunch of four-year-olds.
That said, obviously board trustees, educators and other board employees are under an incredible amount of stress, and are trying their best to navigate a logistical nightmare.
As for what will happen when students begin returning to classrooms next week, only time will tell. While there are predictions of outbreaks and school boards shutting down schools almost as quickly as they’d opened them, there were similar predictions when the provincial government began moving communities into Stage 3 of its COVID-19 recovery process. It was too much, too soon, many said, making a large, second wave of the virus inevitable. Most of the province, including the metropolis of Toronto, has now been in Stage 3 for more than a month. New confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 continue to hover around 100 – it was 114 on Aug. 31 – which one can argue is pretty good, considering more than 25,000 tests were performed.
Perhaps a return to the classroom will not have the sort of catastrophic effects that some are predicting.