British Columbia

Some B.C. parents lukewarm about their children returning to school in June

Whether it's not wanting to disrupt new routines or fear of infection, some parents plan to keep kids home.

Whether it's disrupting routines or fear of infection, they plan to keep kids home

Sarah and Thomas Gallos, pictured with their daughter Odessa, say they'll keep their six-year-old son Osman home when schools reopen in June. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

When B.C. schools reopen on a part-time, voluntary basis at the start of June, Osman Gallos, 6, will not be returning to class. 

Sarah and Thomas Gallos, Osman's parents, say they've weighed the risks and they'd rather keep the Grade 1 student at home to finish out the school year.

"We do feel they are rushing a little bit but it's not a mandatory situation so we're taking it slow. We're taking it at our pace," said Thomas Gallos. 

"With only a month left in the school year, the risk seems too high for what he might be getting out of it."

Osman Gallos, 6, has been logging onto a tablet to do school work to keep up with his Grade 1 class since mid-March when schools shut down. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Another parent, Raman Boparai, feels similarly. He says he and his wife have completely changed their schedules so they can home school their three daughters, who are in Grades 12, 8 and 1. 

Along with a reluctance to uproot their schedule for the few weeks remaining in the school year, Boparai is also worried about keeping his elderly parents, who live with them, safe during the pandemic.

"We live under one roof. Kids are usually ... magnets to get the infection, flus and bring it home. So I don't see it reasonable to have that risk and getting my parents sick," Boparai said.

On March 17, the provincial government announced elementary and secondary schools in British Columbia would remain closed indefinitely due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

When the province announced the reopening of schools on May 15, Premier John Horgan reassured parents he would not have made that decision unless it was safe to do so. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, reiterated that reassurance on Thursday.

"This is an approach that's been taken with considerable thought and cautiousness, and I have confidence in the approach we have developed for June," Henry said.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, infectious disease expert and pediatrician at B.C. Children's Hospital, said he would be sending his own children back to school next week.

"If there's any time to try, it would be now," said Murthy. "Our case count is reasonably low. We have the hospital capacity if cases go up and it's becoming summer." 

And individual districts have been busily preparing for that return.

Suzanne Hoffman, the superintendent of the Vancouver School Board, said her district had purchased cleaning supplies, extra hand sanitizer and is in the process of putting up signs to enforce physical distancing.

She said she would be working with parents and staff to make sure students will be safe if they choose to return.

"I would like to acknowledge there's a great deal of uncertainty in our community at this point in time but we're looking forward to the eventual opening of our schools," she said. 

Suzanne Hoffman, the Vancouver Superintendent of Schools, says the district is preparing by purchasing hand sanitizer, cleaning products and putting up signage to enforce physical distancing. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

But workload is also a concern as some teachers say it will be a strain to have students both in the classroom and at home.

BCTF president Teri Mooring says the plan in many districts is for teachers to be teaching four days a week in the classroom — which doesn't leave a lot of time for both.

"When teachers are teaching four days a week with students and it's full days, they can't be doing remote learning then," Mooring said. 

Raman Boparai, who has three daughters, says he's reluctant to send them back to school because his elderly parents live in the same home and he doesn't want to risk a COVID-19 infection. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

There's also the school experience. Sarah Gallos said physical distancing measures would make school life very different, especially for younger children like her six-year-old. 

"[School] is about play, it's about being with your friends ... especially for someone who is in Grade 1," she said. 

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from Belle Puri, CBC Vancouver News at 6

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