Elementary and secondary school students in central Ontario will return to in-class learning on Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, the province announced that based on the most recent data and advice of the chief medical officer of health, most schools within the jurisdiction of Peterborough Public Health and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit can resume in-person learning on Jan. 25.
Parent reaction to the news is mixed.
Brian Burdick, a parent of a Grade 9 student at Crestwood Secondary School in Peterborough, tells Global News Peterborough his daughter will attend the final week of the current quadmester before starting the new one the following week.
“We’re sending them to school for a week and put them at risk and after that they will return home to begin the next quadmester,” he said.
“Why not leave them at home for another week and get through to the new quadmester and then parents and kids can make decisions to do the right thing for them. They’ve been doing this since before Christmas and it’s working very well. For the sake of one more week, do it and be done.”
Tim Rollwagen, whose children are aged four and six, says it was easier for his kids in the spring, but the latest lockdown and school closures have been difficult.
“They’ve struggled. I really feel their mental health over the past few weeks. We have tears a lot. They need a lot of support getting on remote learning and it’s been a challenge. They really, truly do miss the classroom,” he said.
“With the (low COVID-19) numbers in Peterborough and how we’re doing, I really appreciate that we get the chance to go back. For my kids to go back and see their friends and teachers again, it will be good for their mental health.”
In addition to returning to class Monday, masks are now mandatory for students in grades 1 to 12.
Masks are highly recommended, but not mandatory, for kindergarten students.
New masking requirements will also be in place for outdoor activities where physical distancing of at least two metres is not possible.
“This is good news for our community, and an excellent sign that when we follow public health measures, restrictions can ease,” Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, medical officer of health for Peterborough Public Health, said of the return to in-person learning.
“If children are showing any symptoms, parents should get them tested right away so they have results before school resumes on Jan. 25. Don’t forget that back to school means back to daily COVID-19 screening, and that students and staff must stay home with any symptoms.”
Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith said the return to the classroom would be beneficial for children’s mental health.
“We have consistently heard from parents Peterborough Kawartha that they were anxious to have their school aged children return to school,” stated Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith.
“Parents wanted their children to have a sense of more certain activities during this time of uncertainty. The positive mental health aspects for these children to be able to see their friends in a safe learning environment cannot be understated. Mental health is part of your overall health. We believe that the diligence that our community has shown in the fight against COVID-19 will continue once school resumes and we will continue to observe the Stay at Home order before and after school.”
The stay-at-home order is expected to be in place for all of Ontario until at least Feb. 11.
Elementary and secondary school students, in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, who attend school in Clarington, will not go back to in-class learning on Monday.
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