Canadian children are trickling back into classrooms, but the return is off to a rocky start with dozens of students in one province already in isolation amid COVID-19 scares and teacher unions filing labor challenges.
Coronavirus cases have been reported in numerous schools in Quebec since classes resumed last week after the summer holiday, fanning fears across the country as most schools reopen for the first time since March.
Canada’s chief medical officer warned last Friday that cases in schools would be “inevitable,” but told parents the pandemic was “under manageable control” in the country.
“We have quite low levels of illness,” Dr Theresa Tam told reporters, adding: “I think it is absolutely normal to feel stressed. You’re talking about your kids.”
Canada has reported 129,425 coronavirus cases and 9,132 deaths as of Sept. 1, but daily new cases have been trending higher in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba in recent weeks.
Adding to the anxiety are delays and last-minute changes to back-to-school plans, as well as poor information about the possible consequences of what students are signing up for.
Jackie Lee in Sarnia, Ontario, said her Grade 12 son opted for virtual learning to avoid getting infected, only to discover after registering that he will graduate from an online high school instead of the specialized school he had been attending.
“This is not what we signed up for,” she said.
While the online learning option has proven popular in many parts of Ontario, hopes that that would lead to smaller class sizes have been dashed.
“What we’re seeing is students from grade 2, 3 and 4 all being put into one class because of the number of students who have … opted for online learning,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).