Windsor

'He's not an experiment': Windsor mom worries about back-to-school COVID-19 safety

Windsor fifth grader Walker Hounsell is "happy" to go back to school this September after COVID-19 cancelled in-person classes back in March, but his mom Therese feels anxious and uncertain. 

Parents say they still have lots of questions about what the school year will look like

Therese Hounsell says she's anxious and uncertain about sending her son, Walker, back to school come September. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Windsor fifth grader Walker Hounsell says he is glad to be going back to school this September after COVID-19 cancelled in-person classes back in March, but his mom isn't so sure. 

"I'm happy that I'm going back to school, get to be able to see [my] friends again," said Walker, who goes to Giles Campus French Immersion Public School. "I'm counting down the days, I can't wait to go back to school, like, I'm very excited." 

Meanwhile, his mother said she feels anxious and uncertain following the announcement by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday that confirmed most Ontario students would physically return to school full-time in September. 

"I don't have a lot of details that really satisfy me," Therese Hounsell said. "I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of my kid going into a classroom with 28 other kids and what that's going to look like." 

She said she's comforted knowing that she gets to make the decision as to whether or not she will send her son back as the province said that parents will be able to opt their children out of in-person classes, if they wish. 

"[The government] said a lot of 'I think, I hope and I feel,' he's not an experiment to me," Hounsell said. "Are we going to send him back and just hope think and feel nobody gets sick that first week?"

Walker Hounsell, who is entering Grade 5 this September, says he's happy to go back to school because he misses his friends. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"When it comes to keeping our kids safe, I won't take any unnecessary risks," Ford said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday afternoon.

The provincial government says it will invest a total of $309 million into the plan, which includes funding for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, mental health support and additional nurses. 

Elementary-age students will remain a single cohort, five days a week, including recess and lunch. Further, school boards will be required to provide the full curriculum. Class sizes will remain at the mandated maximum levels in place before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Secondary students in places with relatively high student populations will attend school on alternating days, in cohorts of about 15. Smaller schools will offer full-time learning, said the province.

The province also said any children with special education needs who struggle with remote learning will be allowed to attend school daily for instruction.

Not enough time to plan ahead

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board communications coordinator Stephen Fields said the board is satisfied that the province has given it more guidance on reopening. 

"We're certainly very pleased that the Ministry has provided us with more guidance on how we can safely open our schools for our students and our staff," reads the statement. 

Fields continued to say that the senior administration team has met with the ministry and reviewed its plans for reopening to ensure it meets the necessary requirements. 

He said the board plans to post that plan to its website for community feedback, but will meet with trustees Aug. 4 to review the plan a final time before parents and families see it. 

Parent Melissa Lewis doesn't think there's enough time for families and the school board to plan for a September return, but her daughter Aliyah Hamilton said she's excited to go back to school as long as she stays safe. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

But Hounsell said Aug. 4 doesn't give her family a lot of time and parent Melissa Lewis agrees. 

"It's just too soon. I think they're implementing this plan too late in the year, meaning you're not giving teachers...enough time to adapt to it," said Lewis who is a faculty and recruitment secretary at the University of Windsor. 

Some concerns for Lewis include class size and the amount of funding the government is putting toward the plan. 

"I really want to go back except that I don't know if it's safe or not," Lewis' nine-year-old daughter Aliyah Hamilton said, who is entering Grade 5 at Forest Glade Public School. "If it's not safe, I don't really want to risk it, but if it's safe enough I want to go back." 

The province says other measures that will be in place, along with mask-wearing for Grades 4 to 12, to ensure the safety of students include:

  • "Self-screening" by families and teachers.
  • Emphasis on hand hygiene.
  • Distancing when possible.
  • Limiting visitors in schools.
  • Directional signage to limit the cross-flow of students in hallways and on playgrounds.

District president for Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Erin Roy said after the province's announcement, she has some concerns and reservations for elementary school teachers. 

"If I was an educator in a [Kindergarten] to [Grade] 3 class right now, I'd have serious anxiety," Roy said.

District OSSTF president Erin Roy says she has 'serious reservations' about some of the opening plans for elementary schools. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

"It's a grand experiment to see how that works out,"she added about having 30 students in a classroom. "Especially in our community where we've had the levels of COVID that we've had."

For secondary school, she said it will involve a hybrid of at-school and at-home learning, but thinks they're "late in the game" to how they'll organize it all.

With files from Lucas Powers

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