‘I Feel Left Behind’ — How 7,674 Canadians Feel About Back to School

Sep 3, 2020

Back to school used to mean the return of this "most wonderful time of the year" commercial

That commercial, like a local fair, signaled the end of summer for a lot of people. 

Now, back to school signals uncertainty. For some parents, it prompts panic, fear and anger. For teachers, it marks the beginning of work. 

Guidelines suggest a theory of work, but without precedent, no one knows. It's something still being hotly debated and it's the beginning of September.

"Among all the uncertainty is one constant question: am I doing the right thing?"

And that's why this September there are so many unanswered questions. Schools are reopening for certain grades, some colleges and universities have elected to go remote this fall. Some municipalities offer the option to e-learn, while others do not.  

Class sizes differ across Canada. Approaches differ across Canada. Some parents with the means to do so are setting up learning pods.

Among all the uncertainty is one constant question: am I doing the right thing? 

I recently ran a poll on the CBC Parents site, asking parents if they were sending their kids to a school — a physical, brick-and-mortar space that isn't their home. At the time of publishing this story, 7,674 Canadians took the poll. 

Many parents are feeling confused or anxious. Here's a story from an Ontario mother who is feeling uneasy about back-to-school time.


Ten cities made up the bulk of visitors to the poll: 1,300 were from Toronto; 544 from Calgary; 491 from Vancouver; 441 from Winnipeg; 308 from Edmonton; 294 from Montreal; 228 from Hamilton; 223 from Burnaby; and 216 from Victoria.

That said, the poll was visited from all provinces and territories, including cities — but not limited to — Halifax and Dartmouth in Nova Scotia, Regina and Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, St. John's in Newfoundland, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Whitehorse in the Yukon, Fredericton in New Brunswick, Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island and Qikiqtarjuaq in Nunavut. 

Poll Results 

The poll was split — 3,693 people voted yes (49 per cent), 2,616 voted no (34 per cent) and 1,256 said they were still undecided (17 per cent).

While the respondants pool is small, relative to the population of Canada, the data reflects larger trends that I've been reading about from parents across Canada

Got a plan for making school safer in September? This father proposes an emphasis on outdoor school. Read about that here.

What the Parents are Saying

The breakdown could seem shocking if the expectation is that most kids will go back to school in September (because it's school!), but after engaging with parents across Canada, it seems that for some the decision is just not very simple. 

For some, there are health conditions that must be considered. 


What we know scientifically is that kids do get COVID. Some may not be affected as much as say, an ailing elder, but kids are vulnerable. Teens are vulnerable, too. And that is something parents are considering when making their choice to stay home or go back in September. 

There are also health concerns intersecting with existing social and political divides brought on during the pandemic.

Many discussed the optics of this pandemic, and wondered why the same precautions for adults weren't being taken for kids.

An epidemiologist wrote about the insecurity she feels at the thought of sending her kids back to daycare and school.

Some parents have taken comfort and some sense of security in the low transmission in their community. 

For those parents who have the option to stay home with their kids, there was a recognition of what parents referred to as "privilege." 

One teacher worried that opening schools was premature, and a direct result of a push to reopen the economy. 

And there are plenty of parents who are confident in the schools their kids attend, based on observations before summer began.


These are just some of the comments received from parents and teachers. There is no shortage of ideas and opinions about what would make back to school optimal for their kids. Because ultimately, you know what is best for your family. You know what your family's limitations are. You know who in your bubble is at risk should they be exposed to COVID. You can only speak to what your family requires, and no one else. 

Like every day during this pandemic, you can only focus on the things you can control (wearing a mask, physically distancing, using hand sanitizer for example). And assess risk, making choices that make sense for your family's particular needs. What's "right" today may be wrong tomorrow; that's really at the heart of living in the time of a global pandemic. And always, as a reminder, not everyone is having a privileged pandemic, and they will not be as spoiled for choice come back-to-school time. 

Whatever school looks like for your family in September, I hope it's a good year. 

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