'They're scared of going back to school': Students, teachers and parents concerned with in-person learning plan
WATERLOO -- Some parents in Waterloo Region don't feel safe sending their kids back to school once classes resume on Wednesday. Many want more planning and instruction before a return to in-person learning from the holiday break.
"I want to keep them for at least a couple of weeks to see how things play out," Chantal Drouin-Charters, a Waterloo mom with three kids enrolled at Elizabeth Ziegler Public School said. "I’m not given the information to make a decision on their health and safety, whether they should be going back to school the following day, in a week, like whatever it is."
Drouin-Charters has kids in grades one, three and four, who stayed home last school year. She said they were excited to be back this year, but now she is stuck deciding what to do again.
"I feel like all my options have been taken away from me and I'm kind of left, send them to an unsafe place or keep them home, which has its own set of implications," Drouin-Charters said.
The Ontario government said it will deploy an additional 3,000 standalone high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units, provide non-fit-tested N95 masks for school staff and additional high-quality three-ply cloth masks strongly encouraged for students and children in January.
Groups representing teachers and students said they aren’t confident in the plan.
"We're not going to have things like the N95 respirators that we've been promised. They're not going to be available on Wednesday. And that's when the risk is potentially going to be the highest, is upon the return. So it just doesn't seem to make much sense to us," Jeff Pelich, President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario - Waterloo Region said.
"We want the government to delay the return to in-person learning so that we can actually take the time to ensure that more students are getting vaccinated, they're getting their second dose," Keith Baybayon, President of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association said.
Both organizations said members are worried about a possible spike in cases as a result of holiday gatherings and would like to wait a bit longer to return.
"I’ve never seen anything like it. The anxiety level is so high," Pelich said.
"Students are stressed, they have anxiety, they're scared of going back to school," Baybayon said.
The Ontario Principals Council, which represents more than 5,400 principals and vice principals, also asked for more measures, including mandatory staff vaccinations and priority access to booster doses for school staff.
The Ontario Public School Boards Association asked the province to consider making PCR testing available to staff and students, in order to maintain confidence in school safety.