TORONTO — On Sunday in Ottawa, children were hitting the hills for tobogganing, enjoying the last of the winter break before sliding back into a school routine.
But not everyone is heading back into classrooms on Monday.
Nova Scotia extended its holiday break and students in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario will switch to online learning for at least a week.
Although online learning presents less of a risk in terms of COVID-19, it adds challenges for families.
“This basically relies on parents to be there to support their kid,” Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, told CTV News. “That’s the part that’s problematic [and] not sustainable.”
Most schools in B.C. will open their doors tomorrow, in spite of tens of thousands of signatures on a petition calling on the province to pause classes for two weeks.
Jeni Hasskett is one of the many parents who are concerned that in-person classes after the holidays could be risky.
“I’m really worried about that, about sending our kids to school where there will be a lot of kids that will have gotten together, either with friends or with family members,” Hasskett told CTV News.
Health experts agree that an extended winter break would cut down on risks for schools reopening.
“The two-week period would decrease the risk of children who did get together with people over the holidays and they picked up COVID, from transmitting it to others when they went back to school,” Anna Banerji, director of Global and Indigenous Health at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, told CTV News.
She added that people may have gathered for New Year’s Eve as well, and that this should be taken into account when planning a longer winter break or more virtual learning before the resumption of in-person classes.
For those who are receiving a longer winter break, or more time at home while learning virtually, doctors advise that they use the time to isolate.
“This time that students will not be going to school, it’s very important that families indeed stay home and don’t visit others and don’t take their children out and about,” Dr. Liga Stare, a paediatrician from London, Ont., told CTV News.
Some teachers are also asking for an extension, pointing to the discovery of the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant found in Canada over the holiday break.
Lizanne Foster, a teacher in B.C., said that education workers and Canadians as a whole “need time to organize ourselves so that we can be ready for whatever this new variant is going to be throwing at us.”
Ontario’s Education Minister has confirmed the start dates for in-person learning at school will not change, despite rising cases in the province. In northern Ontario, all schools will reopen on Jan. 11, while in southern Ontario, secondary students were told they would not be returning to the classroom until Jan. 25.
In an open letter to parents, he reiterated that schools are not a source of rising community transmission.
“According to the province’s leading doctors, our schools are safe, with eight out of 10 schools in this province having no cases of COVID-19 and based on board reporting, 99.64 per cent of students have not reported a case of COVID-19,” the letter stated.
Nine-hundred and seventy-six of Ontario’s 4,828 schools have reported a case of COVID-19, and between mid-September and Dec. 21, more than 5,000 cases had been reported among students.
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