Students, parents and school boards in the Kingston, Ont., area who were preparing for a return to in-class learning in the new year are once again making a sharp pivot, as the Ontario government announced on Monday that students will switch to online learning until at least Jan. 17.
“I feel like it could have been planned better,” says parent Micke Girard. “I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes, obviously, and why it was such a late decision, but it’s still frustrating even though I was trying not to let it be.”
Terri MacDonald, a parent of three, wasn’t surprised by the announcement.
“We kind of saw the writing on the wall,” says MacDonald. “But I know that it’s very hard for a lot of families and especially families that are working outside the home and also for families working inside that don’t necessarily have a separate office.”
The directors of education for both the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) and the Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB) say in-class learning was becoming a challenge leading up to the holidays.
“We did have to be very dexterous in December in terms of making decisions about what schools we could continue to operate based on sufficient staff numbers,” says Krishna Burra of LDSB. “I think the same circumstances are in place right now.”
Another sign of the stress of Omicron is the province’s move to stop reporting COVID-19 cases in schools.
“We’re still not recording cases, we’re still not doing contact tracing because it’s exploded, it’s impossible to keep track,” says David Desantis of ALCDSB. “Public Health cannot keep pace with the amount of transmission out in the communities, unfortunately.”
One of the reasons presented for delaying the reopening of schools is to allow for vaccination levels to increase.
School boards are also being equipped with N95 masks for staff and surgical masks for students, as well as more rapid tests and equipment to improve ventilation.
“Part of the government announcement was certainly … additional HEPA units going out to the province. We are going to be receiving 35 to 40 at some point hopefully in the next week or so and then those will be deployed out to the system,” says Burra.
The nagging question without a definite answer remains whether it will be enough to reopen schools in less than two weeks.