PEI

Parents challenged by school closures as classes resume online

Island parents are once again scrambling to find ways to adapt to COVID-19 school closures, with online learning set to continue for at least two more weeks.

'It's definitely hard to put the mom hat, the teacher hat and the work-from-home hat on at the same time'

It’s not the first time during the pandemic Tracey Gairns-Brioux has played the balancing act between mom, business owner and teacher, she says. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

Island parents are once again scrambling to find ways to adapt to COVID-19 school closures, with online learning set to continue for at least two more weeks.

Classes resumed from the winter break on Wednesday, but with schools closed due to rising COVID-19 cases until at least Jan. 17, students will have to stay home for a while longer.

The situation is creating challenges for many parents, who now have to balance working with taking care of their children.

Tracey Gairns-Brioux has four school-aged kids. She works from home and her husband is a teacher, so both parents will remain in the house while schools are closed. 

Tracey Gairns-Brioux says her older children can do their online school work independently, but her younger kids need supervision. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

But Gairns-Brioux said the situation is still difficult, especially with two younger children who may require more attention.

"It's definitely hard to put the mom hat, the teacher hat and the work-from-home hat on at the same time," she said.

"I struggle with kind of going back and forth, and it's hard."

No time to prepare

Ashley White, a rehab assistant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, is going through some of the same challenges.

With two school-aged children and one three-year-old, White said it's a bit "overwhelming" to have to assume the role of teacher on top of all her current responsibilities.

White said she's asked for three days off work per week so she can take care of her children. She's also applied for the federal caregiver benefit to make up for lost income.

"Figuring it out wasn't that hard. It was more the stress of it all because we didn't know for sure until [Tuesday] this was happening," White said.

"We had it in the back of our minds and we were thinking about it. But it's different when you're told this is how it is right now and this is what you'll kind of have to get used to as of right this second. You don't have time to prepare for it really."

White said not knowing when in-class learning will resume adds to the stress, and she empathizes with parents who haven't been able to find accommodations for the situation.

Ashley White says she's applied for the federal caregiver benefit to help make up for lost income. (Submitted by Ashley White)

"Obviously you want to do what you have to do and what you can do for your kids," she said.

"But I mean, you need income. And if you don't have any other options, well you don't have any other options."

Greens urge more support

Opposition MLA Hannah Bell said she's been hearing similar concerns from lots of frustrated parents. 

Bell said the government's announcement Tuesday left many families scrambling to figure out what to do next. 

She said the supports currently available for parents, such as the provincial special leave fund, are too limited and their eligibility criteria should be expanded so that more people can receive them.

"We do need programs that actually reflect reality. And reality is that most households in P.E.I. have a working parent, sometimes two. Not all households have friends and family they can rely on. And the impact of this on a longer-term basis is significant," Bell said. 

Bell said the province should remove some of the restrictions that limit how much people can receive from the special leave fund, and expand the eligibility for self-employed Islanders, including those in customer-facing jobs or commission-based jobs who are currently exempt.

"Don't make it so difficult to get people to apply to the help. If you're going to have help, give them the help," she said.

"We have the money. We have money sitting unspent in our COVID fund we received from government.... Ninety-eight per cent of the money that we received here came from federal government, and we still have money sitting in those funds unspent. This is when you spend it."

The province said it's currently working on a plan to offer additional help to parents. It said more details will be announced on Thursday.

In the mean time, Gairns-Brioux said she expects the situation won't last for long and for now, she's making plans on a day-to-day basis.

"[The children are] all getting a little bit tired about COVID, and it's kind of sad because the younger two don't almost remember much about life before and they keep asking when this is going to be over," she said. 

"I think the older kids are definitely going to miss their friends. But I think we'll just keep trying to remind them it's going to be a short time, we're going to see them soon. It's going to be better, we just got to try working together."

With files from Steve Bruce

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