By Monika Sidhu—
With September less than two months away, parents are looking for answers on what to expect for the start of the school year. With many going back to work themselves, the stress of figuring out child care is weighing heavy; some parents say they may even have to leave their jobs.
But Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says it’s still too soon to know for sure.
When asked if parents should be asking their employers for flexibility to accommodate for care of their children, he said the provincial government needs to plan for three different approaches for the coming school year.
“We need to be ready—we do not know what will happen in August. So, out of an abundance of caution to ensure there’s not a gap in learning we’re going to be ready for three circumstances with a preference for in-class day-to-day delivery. That’s something we believe can be done; it will just require continued work with the chief medical officer of health,” said Lecce during Thursday’s daily COVID-19 address.
He described the potential scenarios of in-class learning with heightened safety protocols, online delivery, or a blended model, which Lecce says comes with an assumption that public health will require a limited number of students in the class. The third model would require students to be “capped at 15 and cohorted,” said Lecce.
“If there’s a lesson learned by COVID-19 it’s to be ready for the unknown,” he said.
Francesca Zuccaro-Nosotti, who lives in Bolton, has three children enrolled in the Peel District School Board (PDSB). She said she agrees with Lecce’s stance on needing a back-up plan, but wants him to speed up on providing details for September.
“People need to let their employers know,” said Zuccaro-Nosotti, who works as a law clerk at a personal injury firm. She said she was lucky to be able to work from home since COVID-19 hit, but anticipates returning to the office once courts reopen. Come September she needs to be able to plan for potential child care, or to ask if she can continue to work from home.
Zuccaro-Nosotti says she’s concerned about the blended option—which proposes to place the students in cohorts—as her 10-year-old twin daughters go to one school and her 12-year-old son goes to another. This could require her to take more time off work to care for kids who are home on different days.
“They need to let us know as soon as they know, and in my case I’m just hoping that the two schools that are right down the street from each other kind of have a conversation with each other and say ‘well she’s got two in this school and one in this school, let’s make sure they’re going to school on the same days,’” said Zuccaro-Nosotti.
“It would really suck if they didn’t do that for all of the people that have more than one kid. People might need five days a week off from work,” she said.
Brampton mother of three Courtney Jarman said she was worried about many aspects of the uncertainty surrounding the three plans. Not only is she a parent but she’s also a teacher with the PDSB.
“The hybrid model is a mess. The online learning was too hard on the kids. The minister of education kept calling it e-learning; it was not e-learning, it was emergency learning” said Jarman.
She says the online learning was difficult because students need access to additional support as well as the ability to learn hands-on. She, like Zuccaro-Nosotti, is also concerned with the potential blended “cohort” model.
“What happens with those who are at home? And how does it work, am I supposed to be teaching in-class or online? Am I live-streaming my class?” said Jarman.
Zuccaro-Nosotti says she is already feeling the stress of what is to come for September. She recalls how difficult it was to make accommodations for her children in March when COVID-19 restrictions were put into place.
“During the time we had to do online learning, it was probably one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to do.”
Even reporters seemed frustrated about the lack of concrete information Thursday.
“As the minister of education you said that you would give parents a plan—a single plan by the end of June. Not three different plans. Is it not your job to provide clarity for taxpayers?” asked Travis Dhanraj of Global News.
Zuccaro-Nosotti says while her daughters may be twins, they were placed in two different classes with each of their teachers using different platforms for their online learning.
“Even though they were learning the same thing, the work was completely different,” she said. Additionally, Zuccaro-Nosotti’s son has special needs and requires more support from his educators. Between her three children, she had a lot of adjusting to do.
Zuccaro-Nosotti is thankful that her employers are telling her not to stress for now. But her worst fear is if her children are not back to schooling five days a week, then she may not be able to find childcare.
“If my employer doesn’t allow me to keep working from home, I’ll have to leave my job.”