Concerns about more school disruption rise alongside COVID-19 cases


As the spring weather improves, Montrealer Doug Bentley understands that people are feeling a pent-up desire to return to pre-pandemic normalcy. Yet as a parent of two children attending primary school, he remains “uncomfortable” about classrooms amid COVID-19.

“I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the situation in the schools,” he said. “There is a lot of denial about the sixth wave that has started.”

With capacity limits, mask mandates and other restrictions lingering in some regions but gone in others, Canadian regions remain in various stages of easing pandemic mitigation measures. Yet as health experts again warn of rising new COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates in parts of the country, parents and school officials are bracing for a sixth wave could bring into the classrooms.

According to data from the Quebec Ministry of Education, student absences related to COVID-19 have increased from a daily snapshot of around 14,000 on March 22 to nearly 24,500 on March 29. increased again to 27,119 COVID-related absencesaccording to figures released Tuesday – the same day the province announced it would extend its masking mandate in indoor public spaces until at least the end of the month, citing rising new cases and hospitalizations.

Ontario, which tracks the percentage of staff and students absent as part of its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring in schools, also recorded high absenteeism rates in several councils, particularly in the Northern Region.

Bentley, a parent representative on the governing board of his children’s school and a member of the English Parents’ Committee Association of Quebec, isn’t as worried about his children getting sick from COVID-19, since Hunter , 10, and Annabelle, 7, are both vaccinated.

He’s more concerned that a major spike in new COVID-related absences could lead to further disruption to their schooling, another round of classroom closures, or even a sudden return to emergency remote learning.

“To keep children in school – and to make sure they stay in school – wouldn’t it be fundamental to keep them safe? And nowadays, keep them masked?” said Bentley. “Home learning is not a substitute for in-person learning.”

Montreal parent Doug Bentley, seen with his wife Melanie Moore and their children Hunter and Annabelle, is worried about further school disruptions and the possibility of learning online again amid a sixth wave of COVID-19. (Submitted by Doug Bentley)

Although Quebec didn’t reinstate the mask requirement for schools this week, Bentley thinks masks would help — and he’s not alone.

Regarding absences in health care, education

Earlier Tuesday, Prince Edward Island extended its mask mandate (which includes schools) for several more weeks, while easing gathering and capacity limits.

It happened a day after a group of 19 New Brunswick pediatricians released an open letter to the province calling for the reinstatement of its mask mandate, lifted in mid-March, in schools and for preschool teachers. Their call was also supported by the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.

The letter was written late last week based on what pediatricians were seeing and experiencing in homes, workplaces and their communities at large: more children absent from school, more children presenting to hospital with symptoms of COVID-19 and staffing shortages in health care and education. due to illness or having to self-isolate, according to Saint John neonatologist Dr. Alana Newman, one of the letter’s co-authors.

Saint John neonatologist Dr. Alana Newman co-wrote a letter with other New Brunswick pediatricians calling for a return to mask mandates in schools and for child care workers amid an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. (Submitted by Alana Newman)

The most immediate concern, she said, is having enough healthy, non-isolated medical staff “to treat people of all ages who are sick and need treatment, especially in hospital.” and enough teachers and education staff to keep classrooms running.

“The fear that many of us have reached a point where we can’t provide the necessary care to everyone who needs it,” said Newman, who is also a parent of young children.

“And then do we look, weeks from now, at potential school and individual class closures because there are…not enough people available to work?”

Newman thinks reinstating a mask mandate in classrooms and for child care workers would help slow the rise in cases in New Brunswick, even as other parts of the community continue without a. She noted that children under five are still not approved for a vaccine and that New Brunswick’s five-to-11-year-old population has “a significantly lower vaccination rate than older children and adults.” .

Coupled with the fact that young children are much less likely to maintain physical distancing, “I think slowing the rate of spread in that environment alone may impact community spread,” she said.

Amid the pandemic, players in the health system, education system and government have worked together “from the beginning and reassessed things as they went along,” Newman noted.

“I just hope the public health and government parties are willing to engage again and [say]”Let’s look at what happened last month… Maybe we need to re-evaluate what we’re doing.”

“And there’s no shame in that.”

Toronto board changes notice strategy

Canada’s largest school board announced on Monday that it now send COVID-19 positive case notification letters (of all self-reported cases) to all students in the affected schoola change from the previous policy of only sending notes to families in relevant classrooms.

The impetus for the change was the Toronto District School Board’s desire to streamline communication with families, especially for high school students who have different classes throughout the day, spokesperson Ryan Bird said. who noted that the decision comes at an opportune time given that “anecdotally, yes, we’re hearing about an increase in cases.”

The TDSB is doing its best with the mitigations that remain in schools, spokesperson Ryan Bird said. (Angelina King/CBC)

With school boards no longer centrally tracking COVID-19 cases by location on a day-to-day basis, per Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines, “we just don’t have that hard data. “.

According to Bird, despite the fact that many pandemic measures in schools were lifted this spring, the board is doing its best with the remaining measures to keep everyone safe.

“I now think everyone basically mixes during the school day and after the school day, [sending school-wide notification letters] really gives people that higher level of detail,” he said.

“It’s really more on the families to make the best decision based on their unique circumstances.”