Kitchener-Waterloo

School decision-making for the fall raises 'serious concerns' for parent in Waterloo region

Holly Mathers is a Kitchener mom of two that's concerned about the abrupt decision parents like herself have to make regarding sending their children back to school. As a registered psychotherapist, Mathers says this is a decision impacting her mental health, as well as other parents.

Kitchener mom is concerned about making a decision for children's 2021-22 school year

Parents in Waterloo region have until 4 p.m. Monday to decide whether to send their kids back to in-person learning or remote learning, according to the Waterloo Region District School Board. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In-person or remote learning? 

Parents of students with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) have to choose between sending their children to in-person classes or keeping them at home for remote learning for the next school year before 4 p.m. Monday. 

That's the board's deadline for parents or guardians deciding between the two.

Holly Mathers, 40, a mother of two kids and a registered psychotherapist in Waterloo, said the abrupt decision-making is raising "serious concerns" for her since there are many uncertainties during these times. 

"My main concern is that at this point there's so much uncertainty, we don't have any idea what September is going to look like," said Mathers. 

"There's a huge third wave going on. It's threatening the health care system and parents are trying to just cope with all these demands right now."

Mathers said the decision-making process lacks enough information to help parents make a decision. This adds stress and pressure on to parents, especially since the decision is meant for the entire school year, Mathers said.

More time needed

The mom of two said it would have been reasonable if the school board did not lock parents into a decision and instead sent out a survey. She hoped parents would have had more time to thoroughly think about this commitment in order to figure out plans for the month of September and onwards. 

Joey Mathers Scholl, 15, sitting next to his little sister Megan Mathers Leclair, 4, at a park last summer. Their mother Holly Mathers said the abrupt school decision-making is raising "serious concerns" for her since there are many uncertainties in these times.  (Submitted by Holly Mathers)

"We don't know if the children will be vaccinated by then, we don't know where the third wave's going to be at or potential other future waves are going to be at," said Mathers. 

"So I'm hoping that it'll be safe enough at that point for in-person [learning], but I don't see how any of us could predict that given what's happening right now."

Lila Read, associate director of education at the WRDSB said the board understands the stress of parents and families who have to make this commitment, "We absolutely understand how difficult and challenging it is for families to be making a decision … about the mode of learning for their child in the fall," said Read. 

She said the board is also faced with the challenges of hiring more staff for approximately 60,000 students.

"That's a complex process, it takes a lot of time so that's why we've established the May 3rd deadline."

Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Education said it has not directed school boards to establish a deadline for parents' decisions on whether students will be attending school in-person or remotely for the next school year. Officials with the ministry said they believed more time is necessary for parents.

Children and family safety

On top of having to make a decision for her children, Mathers is also thinking about the potential risks of in-person learning. 

She said the risks of being exposed to the virus at school can not be avoided and worries it may put other family members at home with already pre-existing conditions at risk.

"Opening up our family to multiple potential exposures from different schools is not a risk we've been willing to take," she said.

Read said parents who choose to send their children off to school shouldn't need to worry about their children's safety since the board ensures safety measures are followed and work collaboratively with Region of Waterloo Public Health. 

"They have been tremendous partners and an amazing support to us, as we have put in place our health and safety protocols in schools," said Read.

"That includes things like physical distancing, masking, hygiene, regular hand washing … these same measures will be in place for the fall."

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