Back-to-School: Many Parents Choose Home Learning Amid Pandemic

Back-to-School: Many Parents Choose Home Learning Amid Pandemic
A child waves to her parents at the entrance to Bancroft Elementary School as students go back to school in Montreal on Aug. 31, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson)
Lee Harding

As schools reopen across Canada, many parents are choosing to keep their children at home. Some are afraid their kids may contract the illness at school, especially if they have an immunocompromised family member, while others worry that pandemic protocols could negatively affect their children.

Sophie Geerts, a mother of two in Mankota, Saskatchewan, says that for the first time her children are starting the school year learning at home.

“I guess if things went back to normal, pre-COVID, then I would feel comfortable putting them back. No contact tracing, no social distancing, no masks, etc., just normal,” says Geerts in an interview.

“I don’t want anyone to tell me, ‘Oh, you have to self-isolate for 14 days because someone in the class got sick.’ Like, that kind of stuff bothers me a lot.”

A Sept. 4 letter to parents shows that the Prairie South School Division, which comprises 40 schools, knows it is caught between the polarized opinions of parents and the obligation to abide by government regulations.

“Speaking of masks, we know that there are as many people concerned about the use of masks as there are people who think they are absolutely necessary," the letter reads. "Regardless of where you fall on this issue, please don’t put your child(ren) and teachers or principals in the middle, as these staff are following the rules they have been directed to follow.”

The division will review its mask policy on a school-by-school basis at the end of September. Extra-curricular activities may even resume. In the meantime, Geerts enjoys teaching her children.

“I'm finding that home-schooling is beneficial, as it brings us closer together as a family and I can cater to their education more individually,” she says. “The biggest issue they have with it is not being able to see their friends, of course, but they can still do so after hours.”

‘Far From Normal’

In Langley, B.C., Natalie Cudmore’s son will take Grade 2 at home. She says provincial regulations concern her a great deal.

“Parents are not allowed in the school building, nor can they come to the front door when dropping off and picking up their kids; the parents must drop their kids off at a designated place,” Cudmore says.

“I haven’t met one parent that isn’t freaked out about sending their kids back to school. B.C.’s Emergency Act is in place at the moment and supersedes my rights as a parent. So for that reason there is no way in hell I would ever consider putting my son back into the school system.”

In Regina, Kendra Fehr has also decided to home-school her children this year. The mother of three says her 8-year-old daughter in Grade 3 qualifies as immunocompromised due to sleep apnea and heart issues.

“The big reason we did home-schooling [is] because if one [sibling] brings it home to her then we are in trouble. She’s super unhappy about missing her friends at school,” Fehr says.

On the other hand, Fehr says her oldest son, 12, is “super happy to do home-school. He has ADHD and wasn't having an easy time in the classroom before all this.” Her second son, aged 10, has Level 2 autism and “keeping a mask on isn’t one of his strengths, nor is maintaining distance with others,” she says.

Tiarra Schneider, also in Saskatchewan, says she couldn’t enrol her children in the online classes she wanted because they were full, so she has chosen to home-school instead of sending them to a school in nearby Weyburn.

“School is going to be so far from normal, and to justify sending them so they can have socialization isn’t even realistic,” she says. “There will be so many rules and measures in place, my children would be stricken with anxiety. If masks weren’t mandatory, my kids would be going.”

Different Concerns, Different Choices

Some parents who are returning their children to classes do so either tentatively or grudgingly. Aaron Korthuis in Caronport, Saskatchewan, has his child enrolled in Grade 9—for now.

“If the insanity is too much, we are prepared to home-school. Similarly, the school has promised that sports may start in a month, so we are hopeful for that. Otherwise we will re-evaluate our options again,” he says.

Elyse Moss in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, says she’s not worried about the virus. She has one child in elementary and one in middle school. The school will have half the class one day and half the next, with children expected to complete assigned work during the off-day at home.

“I have more concerns about my kids falling behind in studies and their overall mental health than I am of COVID. Actually, I’m not scared of COVID at all. I prefer to be a realist. We have to learn to live with it,” Moss says.

In Toronto, many Toronto District School Board (TDSB) parents have also made the choice to send their kids back to school.

The TDSB contacted the parents of its nearly 248,000 students to ask them to register their children for either in-school or virtual learning this fall, and the parents of 89 percent of the students responded. This included the parents of 90 percent of the elementary students—kindergarten to Grade 8—and 78 percent of the secondary students—grades 9-12. Among these, 69 percent of the parents of elementary students and 78 percent of the parents of secondary students chose the in-person option rather than virtual school.