Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. parents divided on back-to-school plan

With a possible return to in-person learning for children in N.L. on Jan. 24, parents have different views on whether that's a good move.

Some welcome the return to in-person class, others fear for children's safety

Melanie Crocker of St. John's fears the possible emotional and mental impact virtual learning will have on her two daughters, who attend grades 2 and 4. (Kelly Hynes-Curties)

After almost a full month of virtual learning, the provincial government announced Thursday that kids might go back to school Jan. 24.

But parents across the province, who had been waiting on an update about schools, are divided on the potential return.

On Newfoundland's west coast, Keith Muise of Stephenville said he was disappointed when he heard the update.

"I just think it's very rushed," said Muise, who has safety concerns for his son in Grade 2 amid high daily cases counts of the Omicron variant.

"We need to give the kids time to at least get their second doses," said Muise. About 70 per cent of children ages five to 11 have received one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald likened living with COVID-19 to preparing for a snowstorm, when people adapt and add layers of protection.

"Well, to me, if we send them back to school before it's safe, then it's kind of like putting them out in the storm without a coat on," Muise said.

Muise also doubts that children in crowded classrooms will stick to mask guidelines at school.

"How do we convey … to kids [that] if you take your mask off for five minutes, it could get you infected with a dangerous virus?"

School closure felt harder this time

Melanie Crocker of St. John's welcomed the announcement on return to classrooms but was hoping her two daughters, in grades 2 and 4, would return even sooner.

Crocker says her family's experience with online learning wasn't terrible with regard to logistics and access to devices or the Internet. She was also impressed by teachers' efforts to provide a good learning experience.

But she fears the impact of a lack of social activities and disruptions to the school year will have on children's emotional and mental health.

"And then just [to] be hit with what we were hit with again in December, it's just made, I think, this time around feel a lot harder," said Crocker.

Brandon King, who lives in Bay d'Espoir with his wife and two children, is happy his children might return to in-person learning soon. Internet connectivity has been a big issue for his family during virtual class, he says. (Submitted by Brandon King)

Logistics, however, have been an issue for Brandon King and his son and daughter, who attend grades 7 and 8.

The family lives in Bay d'Espoir, and Internet connectivity, necessary for virtual learning, is a constant issue in the King household.

"Our network speeds have caused a lot of issues and troubles for my children, especially this last week where we've actually disconnected from the Internet multiple times," said King. "Because of that, our children are being marked absent as well as missing out on crucial portions of their learning."

King says improving the Internet for rural communities in the province will be crucial, as a return to virtual learning in the future is not out of the question.

Both King and his children said they're excited about possibly returning to school in 10 days and hope there won't be another return to virtual learning in the near future.

Rapid tests

Crocker says the rapid self-test kits that students, teachers and staff must complete before returning to school will make things safer for his fully vaccinated children.

But Muise, who doesn't think rapid tests are reliable, disagrees. When his son got COVID-19 in May, it took three rapid tests before the result showed up as positive.

"The false sense of security is very dangerous," said Muise.

King does have doubts that the rapid testing kits will arrive in Bay d'Espoir before school returns. 

With the possible reopening of school 10 days away, Crocker acknowledges that not everyone will be on the same page.

"Every family has different struggles and different things that they're dealing with," she said. At the end of the day, she added, everyone just wants what's best for their child.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henrike Wilhelm

Journalist

Henrike Wilhelm is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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