Amid rising COVID-19 case counts, many unknowns surrounding the Omicron variant and additional restrictions in Manitoba, some parents are pulling their children out of school a bit earlier ahead of the holiday break.
“There’s not much that they’re going to miss that’s really critical,” said Jay Myshkowsky, who is at home with his two sons this week.
“And just with the insane rise in cases, minor sports, pro sports all shutting down — just figured, you know what? Pull the plug for this week.”
Myshkowsky also says he has concerns about the return-to-school plan in January following the holiday break. He says he doesn’t want to see remote learning put back into place, but circuit breaker restrictions from the province instead.
“We have a winter break here, let’s take that break, let’s bump it two weeks and let’s hire people to put jabs in arms and let’s get people vaccinated or triple vaccinated now,” he said.
Lynda Raible, the executive director of the Earl Grey Children’s Centre in Winnipeg and president-elect of the Manitoba Child Care Association, says she’s also seen some parents keeping their kids at home.
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“We’ve had some parents that, yes, have pulled their kids out a little bit early before the Christmas or holiday break. So the break starting on Thursday, they decided just to wait until January and see what’s happening at that point,” Raible told Global News.
“I think they’re just playing it safe. I think with how communicable the Omicron variant is, that lots of parents are trying to be proactive and trying to keep safe over the holiday break for their kids. We’ve had a few parents who last year, as well too going into the holiday break, did the same thing as well. It’s not surprising to us.”
Other parents, like Suzanne Brennan, are keeping their kids in class for the time being.
“I have my three vaccinations for COVID, I’ve been very cautious because my husband has cancer and we’ve been very careful who visits with us. When we go out we’ve got out masks on, we social distance, we haven’t gone out very much in the last two and a half years,” she said.
Brennan says for her daughter, the benefits of being in class simply outweigh the risks.
“She missed out on a lot of social interaction the last two years. And it was really important for her to go to school today,” Brennan said.
“We did talk about that COVID is getting worse again and there’s a new variant and the seriousness of it. But she said, ‘I really want to go to school today, I want to be around my friends, I don’t feel isolated when I’m around my friends.’ And I feel that the schools are taking all the precautions they can possibly take.”
Both the Louis Riel School Divisions and Seven Oaks School Divisions saw about a two-per cent uptick in absentee rates from Friday to Monday.
“Nothing widespread, no indications that a significant number of parents are keeping kids home and we would really encourage people to keep sending their kids to school, it’s the best place for them and we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping them safe and keeping them engaged in learning,” Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary said.
In comparison to last Monday, the Louis Riel School Division saw an increase in absenteeism by more than five per cent. A spokesperson for the division notes that by while absentee rates usually increase prior to the holiday break, they are seeing higher-than-normal levels this year.
The Winnipeg School Division says they are experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases within schools right now. A spokesperson confirmed to Global News that the province is aiming to distribute rapid COVID-19 antigen tests to the WSD before the end of the holiday break, but do not have confirmed dates of delivery.
The division is currently surveying parents of students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 to see how many are interested in the rapid test kits.