Students will be back in school come September
By Diego Flammini
Ontario students are heading back into the classroom this fall.
The provincial government released its back-to-school plan on Aug. 3, outlining protocols and procedures for teachers, students and parents related to COVID-19.
The 29-page document calls for a return to full time in-class education with the option to participate in remote learning, the return of field trips and extracurricular activities. The plan also includes masking requirements and mandates school boards be prepared for potential closures if outbreaks occur.
Some parents are happy their children will be back in school in September.
“We are ecstatic. Last year my husband (Michael) and I met the school bus driver with a standing ovation and I imagine we’ll do the same this fall,” Jennifer Doelman, a cash crop and forage producer from Renfrew County, told Farms.com.
The Doelmans are cash crop and forage producers from Renfrew County. They have an eight-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter.
The return to in-class learning will give young children peer-to-peer interaction, Doelman said.
“Kids can adapt to learn on a screen. But once we had a routine down, the schedule changed. Their brains are still growing and they’re still learning about emotions and social skills,” she said. “Nothing can replace that kind of face-to-face interaction.”
In addition, having kids back in school relieves parents of stress.
Ensuring kids are engaged remotely is difficult enough. Add in life on a farm and the days are even more challenging, Doelman said.
“Thank God there were no farm fatalities,” she said. “Having children at home while we’re trying to put the crop in and not have a place to go is just crazy. Our normal during online learning was chaos at the best of times.”
Doelman is also pleased with parts of the government’s plan.
Any potential closures or increased safety measures would come from local health units and local school boards.
This allows different communities to have protocols in place that work for their situations, Doelman said.
“It’s very hard to treat a province as diverse as Ontario with one brush, which is what we saw during the lockdowns,” she said. “In my rural area with a lower case count, my hair stylist couldn’t be open because it was for the greater good. I’m glad the local health units will have the authority to make decisions based on case counts within their own jurisdictions.”
Greg Fentie is another Ontario parent getting ready to send his kids back to the classroom next month.
The Elgin County dairy farmer has children entering Grades 5, 3 and kindergarten in September.
He tried to engage his kids with learning activities on the farm but that only goes so far, he said.
“We did what we could,” he said. “The kids got a calf their raising to sell and some sweet corn we’re going to sell. But there’s only so much I can teach. The kids need school, they need to see their friends they also need a teacher who isn’t their mom or dad.”
Fentie has seen parts of the government’s plan and is satisfied policymakers are making the right decisions.
“I’m not saying they have all the answers and really they can’t have all the answers,” he said. “It’s only August, how are they supposed to know what September, October and November are going to look like?”
One of the biggest parts of the Ford government’s back-to-school plan is about vaccinations.
The plan states COVID-19 shots are not mandatory for teachers, workers or eligible students.
Both Doelman and Fentie have received vaccinations but respect an individual’s decision whether or not to receive one.
“I did my part but I’m okay with (teachers) not being vaccinated,” Fentie said. “I wouldn’t want to change anyone’s free will.”
“I appreciate that I’ve been able to get vaccinated and that my husband, who has a heart condition, was able to be vaccinated,” Doelman said. “Everyone needs to approach vaccinations by what’s true to their values and best for their families.