Edmonton

Alberta parents set to juggle pandemic school delay with jobs once again

Another upward slope of a COVID-19 wave, and many Alberta families are presented with an all-too familiar conundrum – how to balance work with parenting while school doors are closed.

'There was no winning either way,' parent says of opening schools while COVID-19 cases skyrocket

Jayme Hack is a registered nurse who works in emergency. She'll have to move her shifts around to take care of her daughters, August, 6, (left) and Margot, 4, (right) if school is postponed again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Jayme Hack/Sara Coulter Photography)

Another upward slope of a COVID-19 wave and many Alberta families are presented with an all-too-familiar conundrum — how to balance work with parenting while school doors are closed.

"It really felt like there was no winning either way," said Edmonton parent Jayme Hack.

The emergency room nurse, who works at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, is now rescheduling her shifts for next week following the Alberta government's decision to delay K-12 classes until Jan. 10.

Hack's daughters are six and four. Her husband runs a real estate business. If exponentially growing cases of COVID-19 in Alberta punt classes back online, they'll be back to juggling irregular working hours with parenting and supervising lessons.

It could leave Hack working primarily weekend and evening shifts at a time when the government is worried about a shortage of health-care workers. Most of her colleagues also have young children, she said.

There is no clarity yet about what will happen with school on Jan. 10.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Thursday that delaying the resumption of classes by about a week for most schools would give administrators time to prepare and determine if schools will have enough staff to run.

At last count on Thursday, 21,000 Albertans had an active case of COVID-19, but health officials say the true number of infections could be at least six times that.

Parents want financial support 

Edmonton public school board chair Trisha Estabrooks told reporters Friday the division knows it will have staff shortages from the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. What happens on Jan. 10 is up to the provincial government, she said — and boards want as much notice as possible.

Estabrooks said the 8.6 million rapid test kits and 16.5 million more medical masks the province has promised to schools should arrive before in-person classes resume.

Teachers who work for schools that were scheduled to resume classes this week will still report for work, the Alberta Teachers' Association said — although some may be working from home.

Some parents, meanwhile, say they're left with a mix of relief and dread — exhaling at the delay of their children possibly being exposed at school, but anxious about the following weeks and months.

Edmonton parent and music teacher Kimberley McMann foresees a return to trading parenting shifts with her husband to supervise their seven-year-old son's schooling and caring for their preschool-aged daughter.

She says the province should move classes online for several weeks to improve ventilation in schools, provide HEPA filters where needed to improve air quality, and establish a rapid testing regimen to ensure infected staff and students don't go to schools.

"This government has made it increasingly clear that they do not prioritize teachers, they do not prioritize students," McMann said Friday.

Music teacher and choir conductor Kim McMann says she and her husband will have to trade shifts working from home and parenting to be able to supervise their children while schools remain closed. (Submitted by Kim McMann)

McMann said it's "bananas" that casinos, malls and restaurants can stay open during the prolific spread of infection while schools are temporarily shuttered.

Both she and Hack, the emergency room nurse, say the government should be offering financial support to parents who have to choose between earning money and caring for young children while schools are closed.

Edmonton parent Shantel Sherwood said decision-makers continue to have blind spots for how disruptions to the school schedule affect students with disabilities.

A board member for the advocacy group Hold My Hand Alberta, Sherwood said sending immune-compromised children to full school buildings during a surge of COVID-19 cases is not an option —the risk to their health is too great.

"When you have a child with disabilities, finding last-minute child care is impossible," she said.

Those students will also miss important therapy at school that could lead to regressions, she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.

With files from Karina Zapata

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