North Durham parent raises concerns with Province’s back-to-school plan

I am a parent of a Kindergarten student at Uxbridge Public School. As I am sure you can understand, I am deeply disturbed by the government’s back to school plan. It is not following the best advice of medical experts (i.e. the Sick Kids document), that calls for smaller class sizes. Nor does it comply with municipal safety protocols around masking as the plan does not require masks for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3.

As a parent of a child going into Senior Kindergarten, I am absolutely horrified at the lack of precautions for educators and students that are absent in this plan.

As a former Kindergarten teacher myself, I know and understand the necessity for smaller cohorts that are required for the youngest, most vulnerable and most high needs students on a good (pre-Covid) day. Spacing students out to a metre will be a challenging task, perhaps impossible, given the physical size of the classroom.

The expectations to mitigate risk will inevitably require them to sit in a single spot for a large portion of the day, a task that is not developmentally appropriate, nor manageable. Can you imagine how many times a teacher will have to remind students to sit still, not touch their face, wash their hands?

This type of repeated corrective behaviour can cause shame, especially amongst students that may have more difficulty self-regulating, and sets the stage for their education experience. What kind of an introduction is this to school?

How can classes be play-based, experimental, explorative, constructive, when educators are managing behaviours and students are sitting still, fearful of their own safety and not able to get too close to each other? Mask wearing for students and teachers would allow for greater closeness. With students ​not wearing masks, how can a Kindergarten educator help that child to zip their jacket, put on their shoes, turn the page of a book, help them with toileting (which is, in fact a common need)?

How can the educators feel safe themselves and keep their own families safe?

I have seen firsthand how viruses travel at a terrific speed amongst young children in a classroom. Sanitizing high touch surfaces twice a day is simply not enough.

Cleaning protocols need to be increased, especially for students in younger grades. The Government is not following the direction of the Sick Kids report that prioritizes smaller classes to minimize risk of transmission. Instead they are spinning numbers about how kindergarten is organized (Press conference August 6th) to make it appear that students will be in cohorts of 15, misrepresenting the form and function of having two educators in a full-day Kindergarten class.

There is a seditious element to this plan as well, which knowingly undermines public education by creating pathways for privatization, charter schools and vouchers. The growing interest in “learning pods,” private schools and individual tutoring creates a climate that weakens confidence in public education.

It is understandable why families are making these choices – the safety of children is their number one priority, and with this plan in place for September, student safety has not been prioritized by the government.

Many of the families who will be compelled to send their children, despite their concerns, will inevitably need to make their decision based on their socio-economic realities and not based on their confidence in this plan.

Families with limited financial resources; occupations that do not allow them to work from home; single parents; and children in care will make up a large portion of those who will have ​no choice​ but to risk their health by attending class in person. The consequences are far reaching. It is likely that these are the children who will rely on school bussing (where, to my understanding, distancing requirements are being reconsidered) and public transportation.

This is not a good plan. This is not a safe plan. This is not a plan that attends to the social-emotional development, the academic needs, and most importantly, the health and safety of children and their families. This is a decision to ​contain​ children so that parents can get back to work. I would expect that school trustees recognize this and advocate for the families and students who they are elected to represent.

Selena Tandon
Uxbridge

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