Paige Wallace says she thinks she’ll take a class next week to continue 11th grade, but she’s not sure it’s the best option.
“I feel like there’s going to be a lot of outbreaks and we’ll go home, but I think they’ll bring us back,” she said.
The 16-year-old at Cathedral High School in Hamilton said she and her friends would feel more comfortable staying home longer before returning to avoid contracting COVID-19.
“We don’t want to get infected with coronavirus. As much as we want a normal life and a normal high school experience, we are willing to sacrifice another month if it means keeping everyone safe and healthy,” she said.
But whatever the decision, she wants to know sooner rather than later, rather than being kept in the dark.
Before the winter break, Hamilton school boards required students to bring their belongings home if any, but said they were planning to return in person. Then he took the alternative Omicron. It is spreading very quickly, and public health units have warned that the number of daily cases is underreporting significantly due to delays in testing.
Now, just days after reopening, there is growing concern about whether the county will return to remote learning rather than welcoming students into classrooms.
Ontario remains quiet about school reopening
The district previously made educational announcements at the 11th, leaving school boards, teachers, families and students in conflict.
Premier Doug Ford made an announcement about upcoming schools earlier this week, but as of midday Thursday, there has been no update. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is scheduled to make an announcement at 3 p.m. ET but no specific details have been revealed.
Other provinces such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia are delaying reopening for a few days, while schools in Newfoundland and Labrador are operating by default.
When CBC recently asked about the impending announcement, the Ontario Department of Education did not respond, instead highlighting its efforts to protect schools from COVID-19.
“Every step of the way, we have implemented Chief Medical Officer of Health advice, including improving ventilation in every school, deploying 70,000 portable HEPA units, high-quality masks, and thousands of student vaccine pop-ups, along with expanding testing options and hiring more students. staff to support safer schools,” department spokeswoman Caitlin Clark wrote in an email on Wednesday.
“Our government has proactively deployed home PCR tests in all schools and 11 million rapid antigen tests directly to all students learning in schools — the only district to do both — as part of our ongoing commitment to protecting students, staff, and families.”
Conflicting opinions about going back to school
Ontario Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca criticized Ford’s approach on Wednesday, and on Thursday, National Democratic Party of Ontario leader Andrea Horwath called for a back-to-school safety plan.
Both said the county needs to implement vaccine mandates for students, reduce class sizes, boost access to rapid tests and masks and improve ventilation. Horoth also mentioned including more paid sick leave for families during a virtual press conference.
“Big stores, playgrounds and malls are able to do their business while parents wait… in literally two days,” she said.
The local public health said that keeping schools open frequently is among its top priorities, noting the devastating effects of distance learning on students’ learning and well-being. McMaster Children’s Hospital has also lobbied to keep schools open.
Wallace said that at least one of her friends had had suicidal thoughts while schools were closed. She believes that remote learning will certainly harm some, but she also believes that the damage can be minimized if the county has a clear plan and sticks to it.
“I feel like what has hurt a lot of people in the last year is constantly staying in school, coming back, another two weeks, another two months, but we just don’t know exactly what’s going on,” she said.
“It’s been the constant worry about ‘what happens next’ that hurts all of us.”
School boards have added and the district should do more to address students’ mental health by hosting an online board where students share their experiences and can meet their needs more than the brochure.
Chris Miha is not worried about waiting. Her son is in seventh grade on the Hamilton Catholic School Board and Miha was not allowed to return to school for at least two weeks in January.
“There was an outbreak at my son’s school and there was no contact tracing by Public Health, it was all done by the principal,” she said. “Online learning is also bad but for a short time, it is the best option so far.”
Teachers are concerned, too, said Paul Tutt, board secretary for Hamilton Public School, trying to strike a balance between protecting students’ education and safety.
“They’re very concerned about being left there to deal with this,” he said, adding that school boards also need time to come up with a plan and can’t do that if the district remains hush-hush.
Some experts, such as infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness, said schools do not have enough safeguards to open safely.
He said schools need to give students and staff vaccinations massive amounts of rapid testing, N95 masks for all teachers, and HEPA air filters in all classrooms and places where people congregate — something that will be hard to accomplish by Monday, he said.
“It’s not possible,” he said.
If you need mental health help
Canada Suicide Prevention Service
Toll Free Number 1-833-456-4566
French: Quebec Association for Suicide Prevention: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Child Helpline: Tel: 1-800-668-6868
Send: TALK to 686868 (English) or TEXTO to 686868 (French)
Live chat counseling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis center