Parents in London, Ont., expressed their questions and concerns Tuesday night regarding sending their kids back into the classroom amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Teresa Armstrong, MPP for London-Fanshawe, held a telephone meeting with a panel of representatives including some with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) and the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).
980 CFPL presents a list of highlighted questions that were asked during the meeting and their respective answers:
Question 1: What happens when a student catches COVID-19?
Answer: Stephen Turner, the director of Environmental Health and Infectious Diseases at the MLHU, says the province is currently developing a discreet protocol to address this, but he outlined a rough overview.
“If a case is identified, they will be isolated and sent home,” said Turner.
“They will (get) tested, and the test result turnaround is about 24 hours…. We will contact all the contacts of that person (within 48 hours) as well.”
Turner says the school will be contacted to take a look at the attendance record for that class to see who was there while the person may have been infectious. Those students will be asked to get tested as well.
“If there’s evidence of transmission, we may (isolate) or close that class.”
If several cases are confirmed in different classes at the same school, measures will be taken to see if it’s necessary to close those classes or the whole school, according to Turner.
Question 2: With classes sizes not being reduced, how will students be kept separated?
Answer: Stephen Turner, the director of Environmental Health and Infectious Diseases at the MLHU, noted that the number of COVID-19 cases among children is relatively low.
As of Tuesday, there are 36 active cases in London-Middlesex, which is 0.007 per cent of the population.
“But children (haven’t) had much prevalence in the number of cases,” said Turner.
“In fact, they represent about 2.5 per cent of the cases, even though they represent about 20 per cent of the population.”
In terms of what can be done to ensure kids stay safe, Turner says parents and educators have the role in getting their children familiar with wearing masks, and making sure they understand the importance of handwashing and physical distancing.
Question 3: I teach in a 100-plus year-old building with no ventilation. There is no possibility of social distancing. What can we do?
Answer: Stephen Turner, the director of Environmental Health and Infectious Diseases at the MLHU, says cohorts are the most ideal situation.
Cohorts refers to grouping the same students together in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There will be very little opportunity to mix with others.
“Keeping windows open to keep air exchange is very helpful, and masking is another component,” said Turner.
“Those from grades four and up are required to wear masks, and those in junior kindergarten to grade three are strongly encouraged.”
Question 4: What are school buses going to look like?
Answer: Corrine Rahman, a trustee with the TVDSB, says the board is looking at ways on how to keep students as separated as possible.
“I know there’s discussion around having family seated together and grouping by grades.”
The maximum number of students allowed on a bus is what it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Question 5: How can we differentiate the flu from COVID-19?
Answer: Stephen Turner, the director of Environmental Health and Infectious Diseases at the MLHU, says this will be difficult to do, since the symptoms are similar between COVID-19, the flu and the common cold.
“When those symptoms present themselves, we’ll ask people not to go to school and to get tested (for COVID-19).”
Once their symptoms have resolved, they may return to class.
Turner says he foresees a light flu season, since kids who are sick will not be going to school.
“I think there are actually some pretty protective measures that are associated with COVID-19,” he said.
Question 6: What concerns have Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) members expressed the most?
Answer: Craig Smith, the local president of ETFO says the two major concerns teachers have is “will they be safe and will students be safe?”
“Because we are going into something we do not know, there’s a lot of concerns about what the cleaning protocols will look like, what it’s going to be like to wear a mask throughout the day, how will you (manage) grades where students must wear a mask, and also grades where students don’t have to wear a mask..,” said Smith.
Smith says the majority of elementary school teachers are also parents with the shared concern of whether or not to sent their kids back to school.
Throughout the meeting, three polls were taken to get a feel of how parents are feeling about back-to-school.
It’s unclear how many votes were submitted for each poll.
Poll 1: How safe do you feel sending your kids back to school under the government’s current plans?
Very safe – Eight per cent
Somewhat safe – 19 per cent
Somewhat unsafe – 39 per cent
Very unsafe – 34 per cent
Poll 2: Do you feel confident the government did everything they could to protect children and teachers in classrooms?
Yes – Five per cent
Maybe – 30 per cent
No – 65 per cent
Poll 3: By now, many parents have decided whether or not your kids will go back to school. Did you feel you had all the information you needed to make that decision?
Yes – 14 per cent
Kind of – 27 per cent
No – 59 per cent
Class will begin on Sept. 8, 2020 for students enrolled in TVDSB and the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB).