Sutton PS sign welcomes students back-to-school

By: Michelle Poirier

With kids heading back to school in Georgina, a lack of information and the looming threat of COVID-19 has some parents second-guessing their decision.

“We have decided to send them, but are unsure if it will stay that way,” Ashley Anne, mother of three, said.

Ms. Anne’s children will be attending senior kindergarten, grade two and grade five at an elementary school in Keswick.

She said her children’s first day was September 10, but it was not until September 8 that they received any information.

“I’m confident in what I have taught them and what they need to do. Even my son in senior kindergarten will be wearing a mask, and we have been practicing keeping them on,” she said.

September 8 was the official opening date given to parents by the York Region District School Board (YRDSB), but some parents did not get the information they needed until days later, if at all.

YRDSB sent out an email survey to parents in mid-August to help the board plan for in-class and online instruction.

The survey determined that while more than 70 per cent of York Region students opted for in-class instruction, there were important distinctions.

According to YRDSB, while only one in five secondary students opted for online learning, one out of three students will forgo in-class instruction at the elementary level.

According to Georgina Trustee Cynthia Cordova, there are several reasons for this, including better support systems at home and more options for elementary students to opt back into school.

Still, she concedes that safety concerns are top of mind.

“I think everybody equally has concerns. The only difference with elementary is that grade four and up wear masks, and under grade four, they don’t,” said Ms. Cordova, who’s also a parent.

“The concerns are that the buses could have kindergarten up to grade eight, and some are wearing masks, some aren’t. And at recess time, you’ll have some children wearing masks, and others not. So no masks for the younger ones possess a little bit more concern.”

Ms. Cordova sympathizes with parents and acknowledges that some information was late in getting to them.

“I know that the timetables were not getting in there till the last minute. So that caused some anxiety. As a trustee, I want people to understand that everybody’s basically flying the plane as we’re building it during these times.”

She also said that the board is working hard to get class sizes down and public health has developed a plan to deal with any potential outbreaks.

Parents line-up with children at Sutton PS

Michelle Sedore-Goodman is one of those anxious parents. She has three children she is sending back to school.

“Unfortunately, they only gave us six days to decide when they sent out the survey, so not having all the information, I said yes to ensure a spot for them,” she said.

Her son and daughter attend grades 10 and 11 at Keswick High School (K.H.S.). She said she feels confident with how K.H.S. is running and keeping their class sizes down. Both children will be going into the school every other day for two-and-a-half hours of class and then completing their studies online.

But she’s not as impressed with Jersey Public School, where her youngest daughter will start grade three. She said the class sizes are too large, and the children in grade three and below do not have to wear a mask.

This is concerning for her, as her son has a compromised immune system, and she does not want her daughter to bring COVID-19 home.

Ms. Sedore-Goodman is also frustrated with YRDSB’s apparent lack of flexibility. When she inquired about changing her daughter to online classes, she received an email stating they would not permit changes.

“The board has not, in my opinion, given families enough information to make decisions based on actual facts like numbers,” she said.

However, Ms. Cordova said that YRDSB will accommodate changes at a later date, and that parents can add their children to a waitlist for online instruction.

Heather St. Amant-Salvati is also having second thoughts about sending her daughter back for grade 10 at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Academy.

“I honestly wish I kept her home,” she said.

Her daughter will be attending class in person and online, but they just found out on September 8 what cohort she is in and still did not know the date or time she is to start.

It is not just the parents who are sending their children back that are struggling to get information from the school boards.

Amanda Staples posted in a community Facebook group reaching out to other parents who are keeping their children home, asking if they had received any information yet. The post was answered by numerous parents, saying they have not heard anything.

Ms. Staples’s daughter will complete kindergarten online. She said she lives and works on a dairy farm, has two other young children, and her father is awaiting a lung transplant and cannot become exposed to COVID-19.

“I felt if we sent her to school, then I could no longer visit with my father as it would be too big of a risk to him,” she said.

She said online learning worked well for them in the spring, but she needs to know what is expected to accommodate her life around schooling, her other children and the farm.

“The more information that is coming out about how the schools are going to run, the happier I am I chose to keep her home,” she said.

Amanda Link has also chosen to keep her children, who are supposed to be in senior kindergarten and grade three, home to study online. She has filled out three different forms confirming that she will be keeping them home but not received any information on the actual schooling.

“I am keeping them home because numbers are going up, and I still feel it is very unsafe for the kids to go back,” she said. “There is not enough information as to whether or not this disease can harm children, and that is worrisome.”

While many parents are anxious and second-guessing their decision to send their kids back to school, some are confident that their kids will be alright.

Natalie Wolfe-Edwards said her daughter would be in grade six and that she is not worried about sending her back since, as an essential worker, she sees more people in a day then her daughter will see in her school cohort.

Despite the uncertainties, many parents believe they are making the right choice for their children, but there is still angst.

“It is extremely bittersweet, I am nervous, but they want to go back, it is a tough place for kids, parents and teachers to be in,” Ms. Anne said.

“I understand the frustration that parents have — because when you’re not settled, your kids aren’t settled. That produces anxiety,” Ms. Cordova said.

“Lowering your stress level as much as possible, is the best thing to do. And in time, we’ll get better as we learn the system, and how this is going to look for a year. This is a challenging time for everyone, let’s just take one step at a time, and we’re going to get through this together.”

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