Ottawa's schools reopen today — and some parents say it's the right move
Students have been learning virtually for the past 4 weeks
After being closed by the province for four weeks, Ottawa schools resume in-person learning today — a move that's being celebrated by some of the city's parents.
"He really needs to see his friends," said Veronica Eden, whose son, Hendrick, has been attending virtual Grade 1 classes at Francojeunesse Public School since the shutdown.
"He's a very energetic and physical child. And so sitting in front of a computer all day has been really, really hard for him."
Amber Miller said she has mixed feelings about sending her six-year-old daughter, Abigail Daly, back to class tomorrow — but it's likely for the best.
"I'm in school myself and a single mom, so I feel like it's the best decision for her to actually engage with other kids. And [have] us not fight about her doing school," she said.
"I feel like school is better for her mental health."
Modelling shows new variant poses significant threat
Monday's resumption of classes applies to school boards within the areas covered by Ottawa Public Health and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit.
Before- and after-school child-care programs will also resume.
The reopening comes at the same time as new modelling shows the B117 COVID-19 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is spreading in Ontario and poses a significant threat to controlling the pandemic.
Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said that threat means opening schools in Ontario should be done very carefully — and other COVID-19 restrictions should stay in place.
"I think we're in a much better shape than, for instance, the U.K. [in terms of the variant]," he told CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.
"We prioritize schools now and it's just about schools ... and then we'll see how it goes."
Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, cited mental health concerns for both parents and students as one of the reasons she pushed the province to open the city's school.
Etches has pointed to the fact that while there were outbreaks in the fall, there were virtually no school closures.
She also agrees with Juni that the other precautions currently in place should remain.
"I want to emphasize that opening schools does not mean we are in the clear or that we are ready to ease up on other public health measures and provincial restrictions in place," Etches said in a special statement released Thursday.
New mask precautions
As an additional precaution, the province is now requiring students in Grades 1 to 3 to wear masks in the classroom — something both Eden and Miller are skeptical about.
"In Grade 1, I think it might be a bit of a battle for the teachers to implement that," Eden said.
Miller said she'd been sending her daughter to school with a ZipLoc bag full of masks, but that's different from asking students to wear one all day.
"I think it will be challenging for the schools," she said.
Neither parent expressed a serious concern about the new COVID-19 variants, with their children's mental health outweighing the fear of being infected.
"Our kind of approach with the pandemic has been trying to find the balance between, you know, limiting exposures in some environments, but then also ensuring that [Hendrick's] overall health — including his mental health and the social health — is maintained at school," Eden said.