School reopening fears and realities
School reopening fears and realities
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
The Philippine Reporter
School reopening preparedness is an issue that has seen conflicting views about balancing quality education and having to accept the realities of pandemic safety measures for school children.
After all it necessarily involves everyone: government, the medical and health community, teachers and school staff, unions, and of course parents and their children.
School reopening which started for the most part across the country in the first and second week of September finds some people excited while others anxious about what is going to happen. While the government keeps reassuring everyone that measures have been put in place for schools to be ready to welcome students, many sectors feel there is not enough preparatory time and resources to make that happen.
Reassurances after all are being made amid constant reminders of the dreaded possibility of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic happening should there be a loosening of vigilance against it.
The issue for many is the level of preparedness in making schools safe. Teachers unions for instance believe measures are yet insufficient to make going back to school safe for staff and children. They say buildings and classrooms and that need repair do not allow sufficient space for social distancing, appropriate ventilation and reduced class sizes. The additional school teaching and health staff and resources promised by the provincial government have yet to be realized, mainstream media reported.
Although school boards have come up with guidelines regarding school opening, teachers still say there is no clear plan on what they are going to do in the classroom – what subjects to teach, what schedules to follow, as one teacher had expressed in a national television interview.
Still, during the first day of school, there was a lot of news coverage of parents accompanying their kids, many wearing masks, and teachers guiding the students inside, as parents lingered in the school perimeter. Whether this was a sign of relief or anxiety on the part of parents in finally having their kids physically in school, only they could tell.
One parent interviewed on TV said he had three school kids who remain at home as he would rather wait for a few weeks to see if school is really effective and safe for his children. He said this was a decision made at home with the kids agreeing to the wait-and-see plan.
Catherine Carpio, a Filipino-Canadian working parent of a son going to high school for the first time, candidly reveals to The Philippine Reporter thru a brief interview her own dilemma which many parents could be experiencing with school reopening amid a continuing pandemic:
“I am torn between safety and in-person learning for my son who is starting high school this September. I am personally against virtual learning, although it has been the trend and the safest way to reduce the risks of contracting the Covid-19 virus. I am concerned about the quality of education that he (and the other students) will receive through virtual learning. For this reason, my husband and I opted for in-class education vs online, which my son Ezekiel agreed. However, as the start of classes draw nearer amid news of a spike of new cases in Toronto, we are starting to feel skeptical in sending him to school in person. It’s scary. I understand that the Premier and the Minister of Education have previously announced the reduction of class sizes to 15, and will implement proper sanitation. But I hope that the government will increase the education budget and fund for a better, safer, equitable return to school. I hope that they can hire more teachers so that the class sizes will be even more reduced, and I hope that they can fund for repairs to add more ventilations and make the schools a safer place of learning.”
Another parent reached by The Philippine Reporter is still anxiously waiting from the school board for information on class schedules and related matters, despite the fact that her grade school son starts school on the second week of September.
“I’m always by my phone and computer these days waiting for a call or email announcement that the school board promised to send parents regarding online class schedules and other matters,” says Elsie Canchela, a mother of a grade five son.
“Up to now, all they have sent is information on in-class learning, but not online studies,” Canchela says, concerned that Dakila will start online for now, with an option to go to face-to-face schooling in November (after the 1st term) or February (2nd term).
Canchela says she and her husband Jonathan have planned with their children as to what would be the best option for Dakila and Malaya, a first time high schooler.
“It’s online for Dakila, and mixed in-class and online for Malaya. There is no full time in-class for high school, so Malaya has in-class face-to-face school in the morning and continues with her online classes in the afternoon at home,” she says. Canchela adds that some schools are offering a study hall with distanced tables and chairs for students who cannot easily go home after in-class studies to catch up with online learning schedules at home. Canchela prefers a shorter time stay in an enclosed environment in school for safety reasons, so continuing the afternoon learning at home is preferred for her daughter.
Parents interviewed apparently are trying to balance having the best education options for their children as they think about the best possible health and safety measures for them as they go back to school.
Canchela offers another dimension to consider for the health and welfare of their children. While many parents are hoping that with their kids eager to see their friends and classmates with school reopening, she anticipates students in general may experience even more stress or anxiety when they see that they would actually have very limited time and opportunity for interacting with each other, considering the many safety and time and space restrictions they will be faced with. However, she is confident about the resilience of the children to adjust to the situation.
Meanwhile, as these very human concerns are felt on the first days of school, the provincial government has issued a media release saying that Ontario is taking extraordinary steps to reopen schools safely. It announced that the “provincial back-to-school plan includes substantial investments in PPE along with more teachers, nurses, and custodians.”
“Our entire team has been working around the clock over the last few weeks to make sure all of the public health measures are in place to safely welcome back our students and staff,” said Premier Doug Ford, as he announced on Sept. 8 an additional investment of $1.3 billion in critical supports for school reopening, among others.
“This school year will be unlike any we have ever seen, but by working together, we can all play a part to keep our children, teachers and education workers safe and ensure our students continue to thrive and be inspired to learn during these extraordinary times,” said Premiere Doug Ford.
“Our plan is the most cautious, safe and comprehensive in the country, fully funded and fully informed by leading medical leaders to ensure we reduce the risk, support positive mental health, and improve the safety of all students and staff,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“With the new school year beginning, the health and safety of students, teachers and staff is our government’s top priority,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “We have been working closely with our public health experts and making the necessary investments to ensure safety measures and protocols are in place for returning to the classroom.”