How Five Families Decide To Send Their Kids Back To School Amid Omicron

Stefany Thiessen with her children Kya and Frank Hart at their home in Winnipeg on January 13.Shannon VanRaes/The Globe and Mail

Millions of students – in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia – will resume in-person learning on Monday. Or they are expected to, at least. As Omicron continues to grow across the country, families are making tough decisions about whether to return their children. Child advocates have sounded the alarm over the harms of keeping students out of schools longer, including mental distress, learning gaps and lack of access to meals and safe shelter for some children. But health experts and educators argue that abandoning robust case reporting and contact tracing has made schools unsafe. Thus, the risk calculation was uploaded to the families. The Globe and Mail spoke to five parents across the country about how they feel.

With a child too young to be vaccinated, fear and frustration reign

There is more cause for concern than reassurance as Shanon Noel prepares to send her daughter back to school in Halifax on Monday after a long holiday.

Avery will return to class with an improved mask. But she is 4 years old – too young to be vaccinated. There are modular units at his school, which Mr. Noel was told had decent ventilation, but he’s not convinced. Because Avery started school in September under pandemic restrictions, he barely knows the children’s families, so he has little faith in informal parent-led contact tracing if there was a positive case. in his class.

And most frustrating of all, Mr. Noel has no idea if Avery’s teacher got his callback. In Nova Scotia, adults over 30 only recently became eligible, and Mr. Noel (who is also a teacher) won’t be boosted until the end of the month.

But despite all this apprehension, Avery can’t wait to be in class again, and Mr. Noel has to get back to work himself.

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union released a statement this week calling for extending remote learning until there is a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases; on Friday, the province reported 891 new cases positive to PCR tests. The province does not count rapid tests in its daily tally of cases and has asked families to notify the school principal if a student tests positive for one.

Mr. Noel said he was tired of seeing Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston stress over and over again how important it is for children to be in school, but without prioritizing reminders for teachers, issuing a clearer protocol on what to do in case of positive cases or ensuring ventilation upgrades. for classrooms.

“If you’re going to say we’re on the front line and it’s so important for us to be there and blah, blah, blah, which I don’t disagree with, at least give us the tools to to be there safely.And to keep the children safe.

-Dakshana Bascaramurti

‘Mondays are scary. I’m scared’

Stefany Thiessen’s two children – a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son – each received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in preparation for returning to their classrooms after a week of online learning. The Winnipeg mum also got 27 N95 masks for them.

Yet despite her best efforts to protect her children, she feels far from ready.

“Mondays are scary. I’m scared. I’m worried about the health of my children. The only thing I tell myself is that I’ve done the maximum. Our government is letting us down. I don’t know. not what else i can do.

During the previous school year, when remote learning was an option, Ms. Thiessen, a single mother, kept her children at home. They are self-sufficient, but there were interruptions, which prevented him from concentrating on his work as an accountant.

Like so many parents, she also believes her children should be in school and socializing with their classmates. Still, her son struggled with anxiety. There were times when she had to stop at the grocery store and he would ask to stay in the car. The few times the family went out to dinner when the number of COVID-19 cases was low, he couldn’t wait to get home.

“He is very worried about coming back. He asked me not to go back,” she said.

She too suffers from a general anxiety disorder, diagnosed before the pandemic. For the past month and a half, she has had daily migraine symptoms. The decision to send her children to school seems out of her control: “They will go back because there is no other good option. »

–Caroline Alphonse

Little room for risk in a multi-generational home

Amandeep Kang works on her computer, while her son Ammol, 11, and daughter Praneet, 15, keep her company at their home in Mississauga, Ont., on January 14.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

It’s been a tough few weeks for Amandeep Kang, a driver with the Region of Peel’s transportation department, as she’s been assigned to drive paramedics. “The work was very stressful. We pick up about 10-12 suspected COVID patients every day,” she said.

Ms Kang, a Mississauga resident, said she could focus on getting all her essential work done because she was assured of the safety of her children. “I risk my health at work, but at least my children are safe at home.”

She lives in a multigenerational household with her 75-year-old mother, who has diabetes. She is concerned that her children, in grades 5 and 10, could contract COVID-19 and seriously affect their grandmother’s health, so she wants to mitigate the risk by keeping them at home until the coronavirus outbreak. Omicron calms down. She is not convinced that schools will be able to enforce social distancing and masking. “I come home and disinfect carefully before meeting my mother, but how are my children going to do this every day? She is at very high risk due to her immunocompromised condition. I can’t take any chances with her.

Although online learning poses challenges, Ms Kang says her mother’s help has been invaluable. “Living in a multi-generational home gives you that advantage. While I’m at work, my mom can make sure my kids are connected to their lessons. She makes sure they get their meals on time and are taken care of.

Ms Kang says she is waiting for her 15-year-old daughter to become eligible for a booster and for her 10-year-old son to receive his second dose of the vaccine. Only then can she ask if it is safe for them to resume in-person learning.

– Uday Rana

“Who’s gonna run the show if I get seriously ill from this?”

Amanda Moehring with her children.

Straight student Amanda Moehring’s eldest daughter is so anxious to return to school that she calculated how much time she could miss and still pass her classes.

“It’s not good for his mental health,” says Dr Moehring, a associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.

All of her children – ages 17, 13 and nine – are most engaged with the material when they learn in person, and she wants them to be surrounded by their peers. But in the end, she decided to keep them at home, at least for the next week.

“I actually think it will be more stable to have them at home. I predict there will be a lot of people getting sick, including teachers, and it’s going to be very disruptive. »

Also, as a single parent, Dr. Moehring cannot risk getting sick from one of his children bringing the virus returns from class.

“Who’s gonna run the show if I get seriously ill from this?”

A third factor cemented his decision: She is in the privileged position of being able to work from home, and keeping her children out of school could help reduce the risk for everyone else.

“If I can keep them out of the school system and make it a little bit safer for families who have to send their kids for whatever reason… then for at least the next week, that seems like an easy choice to me to help with that. make a little less risk for them and for the teachers.

–Dave McGinn

An online learning challenge with two young children: “These children need to see their friends”

Tehseen Azeemi crochets a blanket for a friend’s niece while her children, Ainuddin, 8, right, and Naseema, 5, play in their living room in Toronto on January 14.Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Over the past week, Tehseen Azeemi has been logging on to her fashion tech classes at George Brown College from the only bedroom in her Toronto apartment. It was only after registering her two young children – in 3rd grade and kindergarten – for their virtual lessons from the living room.

To say it hasn’t been easy is an understatement. Mrs. Azeemi will send her children to school on Monday morning.

“I feel happy to be very honest. Yes, I’m worried about the new variant. We know it’s here. But these kids need to see their friends,” she said.

Several waves of infection have swept through his neighborhood of Thorncliffe Park, which is dotted with high-density housing. Almost half of students at Thorncliffe Park Public School chose the virtual option in the previous school year, but many returned to class in September. The local hospital, Michael Garron Hospital, and public health have stepped up efforts to vaccinate area residents, knocking on doors and opening pop-up and school clinics. Currently, the vaccination rate for neighborhood residents 12 years and older is 77%.

Ms Azeemi said remote learning was not working for her family; she doesn’t even like shopping online. She sent her children to school whenever the doors were open. School staff, she said, have done everything possible to keep them safe, including deploying masks and HEPA filters in busy classrooms.

She will also do her part. This weekend, Mrs. Azeemi will take her children to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“That’s the precaution we have to take. God forbid, even if they catch this new virus, at least they will have something in their body to protect them.

–Caroline Alphonse

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