At a playground just steps from the local elementary school in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, a group of children laughs and takes turns on the swings.
One of them, Mikaela Detorres, is getting ready to enter Grade 2.
“I’m not ready, but I’m excited because I want to make new friends,” she said.
However, her mother told Global News she is feeling neither ready or excited.
“I’m afraid, but I have no choice because I’m a single mom so I have to work,” explained Rowena Detorres.
Rowena is not alone. Another mother at the same park playing with her daughter, who is about to begin Grade 1, shared that she too feels concerned.
“She is excited but I am worrying about it because the coronavirus is not done,” said Mehria Ahmadzad.
She said she is concerned for her daughter’s safety when she returns to school amid the pandemic, but also worried about getting her there on time.
“With elevators I have problem. It’s very crowded,” Ahmadzad said.
Thorncliffe Park is a highly populated area with 35 mid-to-highrise buildings. Many of those buildings are filled with students who will attend the local schools in a few weeks.
The Latours, who are one of the families impacted, will not be sending their children back to class.
“The problem is there is a lot of highrise buildings so it’s hard to make space between you and your neighbours,” said Alain Latour, a father of two.
His wife has given up her job to stay home and homeschool their son.
“I just don’t see how the same amount of kids in the same space will be able to social distance,” added Latour.
Thorncliffe Park Public School is the largest elementary school in Toronto and one of the largest in North America.
“Everybody has to get out of these buildings, down elevators and to school at the same time each day,” said TDSB Trustee for the area, Rachel Chernos Lin.
“And that combined with the normal challenges of entering a school during COVID, with all the new precautions that are being put in place, is an added layer that everyone is working hard to try and find creative solutions for.”
Schools in the neighbourhood — including Thorncliffe Park Public School — have been deemed at high risk of having a COVID-19 outbreak.
“At this school, in particular, it’s a Grade 1-to-5 elementary school all classes will be capped at 20 so there will be considerable hiring of new teachers if needed in order to achieve those smaller class sizes and that’s a really important risk mitigation strategy,” added Chernos Lin.
She also pointed out families have the option of keeping their children at home for remote learning.
“We do understand though that some families have less choice than others and certainly in this community where poverty is a significant factor … school is a really important place for their kids to come for the day,” said Chernos Lin.
The director of policy at Alliance for Healthier Communities, an organization that seeks to advance health equity, noted those living in communities, like Thorncliffe Park, with higher rates of COVID-19 face unique challenges and limited options.
“There is the illusion of choice … getting a phone call asking whether you’re planning to enrol online or digitally when you don’t really meaningfully have a choice because you have to go to work, or your children aren’t learning well at home, or you don’t have access to secure spaces even if you are given digital devices,” said Kate Mulligan.