Hamilton parents are happy — and worried — about heading back to school with no restrictions

Some parents in Hamilton have conflicted feelings about going back to school now that restrictions have loosened up significantly.

Children across Hamilton went back to school on Tuesday

Amber Cowan walking down the street holding her daughter Stella's hand.
Amber Cowan-Flammini sent her daughter, Stella, to school for the first time in almost three years. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

For Amber Cowan-Flammini, the return to in-person classes is both exciting and scary.

Her youngest daughter, Stella, is immuno-compromised.

She started in-person learning for the first time on Tuesday after almost three years learning from home. 

"This is the first time she'll be in a classroom with desks … I expect her to have an adjustment period," Cowan-Flammini said. "I also expect them to get a whole bevy of viruses because they haven't been anywhere in two years."

But the risks of keeping Stella and her older daughter, Olivia, at home, Cowan-Flammini says, have started to outweigh the benefits. 

What's really sad is that the people around us clearly value the economy more than health.- Amber Cowan-Flammini

"I hope and pray for the best and hope that when we do catch COVID — because I think it's pretty inevitable — that it's not serious, because we've had all of these vaccinations."

"I mean, it is tough, but I'm also excited for them because I want them to live their life again."

Stella, a new grade three student, attended school in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

Cowan-Flammini said that Stella was really excited for her first day of school, and despite her own anxieties, she was happy too... for the most part.

She's not a fan of how the province has loosened restrictions. Especially the most recent announcement, which saw the mandatory five-day isolation period dropped for those who test positive for COVID-19. The province made the announcement last Wednesday.

Dr. Kieran Moore said the COVID-19 pandemic has moved out of a "crisis phase" and become something that will require long-term management. The seventh wave has crested, he said, but the virus "remains in the community" and Public Health Ontario expects to see an increase in transmission as more people gather inside during the cooler fall months. 

Cowan-Flammini says that as far as she is concerned "the Ontario government … told us, you're on your own... What's really sad is that the people around us clearly value the economy more than health."

Dr. Fahad Razak, the scientific director for the province's science table — which was dissolved by the government on Tuesday — agrees with Cowan-Flammini.

Last week he said to the Canadian Press "I'm seeing significant risk in the health-care system and a wave that has not receded to the extent that we would like. I'd like to see the public health measures remain at least as strong as they are."

Other parents have conflicted feelings about the easing of restrictions

The fall marks the first time since the pandemic started that children across Ontario are going back to school with no restrictions.

While Joan Del Villar holds a lot of the same views as Cowan-Flammini, she said she is conflicted about the easing of restrictions.

She also has two young daughters and her elderly mother stays in the house with them.

"I really wanted that five-days [rule to stay] longer, so that a person that is sick can recover and then go back to school later."

"But at the same time, I know they need face-to-face social interaction with the teachers."

Joan Del Villar's daughters, Nora, left, and Lara, right, go to a French-immersion school, where being able to see people's faces can be vital to learning the language. (Aura Carreño Rosas/CBC)

Del Villar's youngest daughter will be going into Grade 1 at a French-immersion school, which also has her conflicted about the mask mandate.

She said she wants her daughter to be able to look at the teacher's faces and expressions as she starts learning French.

"It's hard because you're still worried about COVID, but you also are happy they're back and that they have that interaction that was missing for those two years."

Del Villar said she's hopeful, but looking cautiously at the future for what the colder months might bring.

"I'm happy [they're going] to school, I want them to go back to a more normal life for their school, for their learning."


Aura Carreño Rosas

Freelance reporter, CBC Hamilton

Aura Carreño Rosas is a Hamilton-based freelance journalist from Venezuela, with a passion for pop culture and unique people with diverse journeys.