A parent of three says Manitoba faces a “no-win situation” as it contemplates a return to in-person learning for students.
The province could reopen schools for everyone as COVID-19 rises like never before, triggered by the highly transmissible variant Omicron, or it could order a return to a semblance of virtual learning, which is a burden for some parents and families.
“I am very concerned about the [COVID] spread that obviously occurs… so sending them back, as is, seems dangerous, ”said Patricia Petti.
“But having them at home is also bad for them, and I totally agree when people say they are concerned about mental health and the kids are not going to school.”
That choice – whether to bring K-12 students back to in-person learning, or not – is left to Manitoba health officials and the government this week.
The province already delayed returning to school after winter vacation by a few days, until January 10, to assess the impact of the Omicron variant. So far, the variant has made its presence known: The daily number of COVID cases regularly breaks records, and those numbers are underestimated as testing capacity is strained.
Push for distance learning
In recent days, the teachers’ union and the board of directors of Winnipeg’s largest school division have publicly called for moving nearly all students to distance learning.
And today, Ontario announced two weeks, maybe more, of virtual learning in early January.
Petti understands the need to balance concerns about COVID and the well-being of children.
“I think they should be in school, but I think they should be safe. I think the teachers there should be safe. Everyone should be safe,” he said. she declared. “It shouldn’t be a question of which one is more important, they are both important.”
More specifically, she wants a return to last May, when some schools were closed to all students, with the exception of children of essential service workers, high-risk students and some disabled students. She is the mother of a child with autism who would be eligible for in-person learning.
Another parent, Vanessa Eidse, would like a short period of home schooling.
This could give the province more time to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the health system from being overwhelmed again, she said.
“We know that this [COVID variant] spreads so much faster than before. And we are in winter in Winnipeg. Not on the outside, we are on the inside, ”she said.
Lacks the social aspect
Initially, her teenage kids might see distance learning in January as an extension of the winter break, but Eidse expects that feeling won’t last, especially if a virtual learning period lasts longer than foreseen.
Ryan Kochie has said homeschooling is not ideal for his children. He feels their education has faltered as a result.
The father of four said he struggled to get his eldest son to focus the last time virtual learning was the norm for everyone.
“There are a lot more distractions than school,” Kochie said.
“We try to give him some space, but then a cat or something comes along and he starts to wander.”
Even still, he understands that distance learning might be necessary. Transmission of COVID-19 is rife and many school-aged children are not yet doubly vaccinated, he said.
The provincial government said it was continuing to assess its back-to-school plans and would make any announcements as soon as possible.
WATCH | Manitoba places importance on distance learning during the Omicron wave: