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Back to class

Staff and students returned to Stephenville Middle School as in-person learning resumed yesterday. – © Jaymie L. White / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White

Special to the Appalachian

STEPHENVILLE – In-person classes resumed at K-12 schools across the province yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 25), provoking mixed reactions from parents around the region.

Although current active cases hover around 3,000, daily case numbers consistently above 300, and around 20 in hospital due to COVID-19, the decision was made to open schools for students to return to in-person learning.

Premier Andrew Furey, during the live COVID-19 update on Jan. 20, said it was a decision that wasn’t made lightly by the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, and her team.

“As we’ve seen across the country, over 97 per cent of students are now in school. But as we have learned, the situation can change. Rest assured, we are watching closely and will change too, as needed, as we always have and shown that we will throughout this pandemic.”

Dr. Fitzgerald said this pandemic has shown how important school is for children for all facets of their well-being.

“We are concerned for vulnerable children that rely on schools for specialized services and support, as well as consistent access to food and physical activity. And as heartbreaking as it is to say, we need to acknowledge that there are some children living with violence and school is their safe space. We are also concerned with the increased mental health impacts on children and youth and the lack of routine, social isolation, and concerns about the pandemic in general, fuel anxiety and depression.”

Fitzgerald said it is understandable for parents to be worried, but that there are measures in place to ensure safety of the students. Precautions include staying home when showing symptoms of COVID-19, masks, which are recommended to be three-layers, are worn at all times indoors, and the introduction of the rapid testing program for students.

Regardless of these precautions, many parents are still on the fence about whether the decision to resume in-person learning was premature, and some are choosing to keep their kids at home.

Janine Young of Stephenville said the decision to send her children to school felt a bit pressured as she had to return to university at the same time and doesn’t have access to childcare if her children were to remain home.

“I have mixed feelings about the return to classes so early, given the rising case count in our province. However, our children really aren’t getting enough out of online schooling, especially those in the K-6 grades, when it comes to many aspects of their development like socialization and hands-on learning. So while there are pros and cons to each decision whether to stay online or in class, I think right now it should be left to remain online until the level of risk in our area is lower.”

Barbi Sheppard of Flat Bay made the decision to keep her daughter at home because she doesn’t feel it is safe enough in the area.

“I do not agree with the decision to send kids back to school. The case numbers are too high. It’s not dwindling at all and fluctuates on a regular basis. I understand there are parents who work and it’s hard to find sitters, but the children’s safety should always be first. Online classes should still be available to those who don’t feel safe sending their children.”

Leanna Felix of Black Duck Brook also has mixed feelings toward the return to in-person learning.

“I understand the need to return to school for the social aspect, and online learning can be very difficult for parents who have multiple children at home or parents who have to work and have nobody able to help. Personally I’m a stay-at-home mom and luckily the only difficulty I have with online learning is having to explain to my six-year-old how important it is to pay attention. Fortunately, again, he is in a French school so there are only two children per timeslot. The teachers are prepared and positive, so he does get the most out of that hour. With that being said, parents are concerned with the surplus of cases announced now and I am as well. We have so many more cases coming in on the Western side and it’s very confusing that they feel it’s okay to return to our schools.”

Destiny Smith of Stephenville is another parent who has made the decision to keep her child home. She said that vaccination or no vaccination, people can still contract COVID and she doesn’t want to force her five-year-old to do COVID tests several times a week, something that could prove traumatizing.

“They can’t open certain businesses because of the risk to the health of customers and employees but are willing to let children be packed together in classes? I don’t think that’s fair.”

The province has promised to provide weekly updates on the status of in-person learning, along with the alert level, which currently remains at Modified Alert Level 4.

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