It’s been several weeks since Quebec lifted its mask mandate for schools – just as students returned from spring break – but Katherine Korakakis continues to feel a little nervous as her daughter Bella sits in class this week without mask.
Despite her 11-year-old agreeing to keep one for two weeks after the break (considering the number of classmates who had travelled) and despite her cautious optimism that restrictions will be relaxed, the Montreal parent has felt the province’s decision to drop the school mask mandate at this time was yet another frustrating pandemic policy regarding children.
“Removing the masks so quickly after spring break? It didn’t put our children in the best possible position,” said Korakakis, who is president of the Association of English-Speaking Parents’ Committees of Quebec.
From debates over masking in schools to repeated student swaps between in-person and remote learning, many parents feel that Canadian policymakers have failed our children during the pandemic.
In a recent survey conducted between March 1 and 4 of this year, the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with CBC News, asked 2,550 Canadian adults how they were coping amid COVID-19. (A probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
Sixty-seven percent of parents surveyed (those with children under the age of 18) said policymakers had not sufficiently considered children’s wellbeing when making decisions during the pandemic. This figure is even higher – at 72% – for respondents with children specifically between the ages of 6 and 12.
Beyond the mask situation, other school-related concerns also need prompt attention, Korakakis said, from declining students’ mental and physical health to learning gaps that have developed or have grown. aggravated.
“The pandemic has really brought to light… all the areas that need improvement and I don’t see a plan in place to address any of those needs.”
Since so much of a child’s life revolves around school, it’s no surprise that parents have questioned school-related decision-making over the past two years, said the president of the Angus Reid Institute, Shachi Kurl, of Vancouver.
“When we think of school not just as a place of learning but as a place of early childhood development, it’s no wonder that parents – no matter where they come from in terms of their ideological stance on spectrum or economic position or their own educational position — [felt] frustration around what decision makers are doing. »
Children “were not a priority”
Part of this parenting frustration rests on our polarized landscape. Some parents think mask mandates are a good idea, while others don’t, “so when they’re dropped, it’s problematic. When they’re kept, it’s [also] problem,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Ottawa, chair of the Royal Society of Canada’s COVID-19 Task Force and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Mental Health. in schools and the prevention of violence.
But she said child advocates like her were also “pretty frustrated…with how [children] were not prioritized when making decisions about their health and well-being.”
“A lot of times politicians say they’re going to put children first… When we spend money on an issue, we’re saying we’re putting that issue first; we feel that’s an important aspect to And that’s There are actually cuts in those areas instead of additional funding.
Children’s mental health, for example, was an issue on the radar even before the pandemic, Vaillancourt said. She wants to see government and school officials think more holistically, funding strategies to ensure students catch up on learning loss from the pandemic, but also prioritizing children’s mental health. and young people.
“I don’t want us to put the kids in summer school and give them a reading, writing and arithmetic curriculum just to make sure we get them back. [to] pre-pandemic standardized scores,” she said.
Vaillancourt also said improving the mental health of mothers will benefit children.
“Maternal depression and maternal anxiety – those are not good things for a child,” she said.
“If we want children to be healthy, we also need their families to be healthy… I would like us to prioritize the well-being of mothers, in particular.”
Parents lean into advocacy
In Surrey, British Columbia, spring break is coming to an end for Rani Senghera’s nine-year-old sons, Jora and Kesar. British Columbia is dropping its mask mandate in schools after the two-week break and also updating other measures in classrooms, but it has asked the twins to continue wearing masks for the time being.
“Right now whatever you feel comfortable with, you should do,” said Senghera, who is also the media director for the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council.
During the pandemic, she has seen parents pay more attention and speak out about decisions affecting their children, asking questions that shed new light on pre-existing issues and problems in schools.
She said they noticed, for example, “”these laptops don’t have sinks [for hand-washing]. Why don’t they have a sink?’” and “’Why is the air filter system in the classroom not up to standard? Why is it not maintained? Why isn’t it at the highest level it should be? “”
Senghera said she thinks Canadian parents have made a difference by standing up for their children over the past two years. Still, she hopes parents will get better communication and more consideration from education and government officials who decide school policy in the future.
“Parents are way down the ladder when it comes to decision-making… when we should be the first person they ask first because it is our children who are in school.”