No More Pencils, No More Books…We Need a Better Plan for Kids & Their Families

There is what seems to be a great urgency, in some groups of people, to send kids back to school or childcare as soon as possible. I’m not a parent to a toddler or a school-age child yet so I don’t know what it’s like exactly, but I do get the call for help. I can imagine it’s tiring to be home with your kids all day for months on end when you’re not accustomed to it.

Working from home with kids is a whole other type of challenge. If you do it on the regular, frankly you’re a superstar. Same with those whose job is to stay home with their kids. Teachers (including ECEs and other roles like this) – don’t even get me started. The things teachers deal with is often unknown to parents, unless they recall events from their own childhood. To get to the point – it’s tough. It’s a job to care for kids full time, tack on also working a full-time job remotely. That ain’t easy and it’s probably not sustainable in the long-term for many jobs which have now been transferred temporarily to the home setting.

That being said, COVID-19 is not “over”. It’s still here. It’s seeing resurgences across the world, specifically in the USA where numbers continue to increase. As Ontario rushes to re-open the economy, I fear that we will see one as well (though I think mandatory masking in certain regions in indoor spaces is a good step in the right direction, as long as we make sure masks are available to everyone – I also don’t like the word “mandatory” necessarily, but that’s a whole other post).

I fear that if we rush kids back to school in the fall without a realistic and sustainable plan in place that we are writing our own doomed history. There is still a widespread belief, from what I can see online, that kids aren’t at risk for COVID-19. They aren’t as at risk, as you’d see with influenza for example, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t still get sick (though if they do most cases appear to be generally mild) or potentially spread it to those who are higher risk such as grandparents (older people), or family members who may be immune compromised (or don’t forget the staff and fellow schoolmates who fall into these categories). Unfortunately the risk of transmission from children to others is not known for sure (like many things with COVID) but is currently being studied by the University of Calgary (and likely other institutions).

We have to keep in mind that young children (or even older children) may not be strictly adhering to social distancing, masking, or even hand washing, even if advised to do so. The ratio of staff to student in many schools, would make ensuring all this is done by each student very difficult too. All of this of course increases risk of infection, and as the risk of transmission from children is still up in the air… it leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Should public health leads everywhere not be looking to research like this to make a safe decision? Maybe this is happening in some places, but I don’t think it’s happening everywhere since decisions seem to have been made so quickly. We simply can’t make this decision lightly or too fast – there are lives at stake. The safety and well-being of so many people could be impacted.

Now, if we are deemed ready to open schools based on evidence and there is a good plan in place to protect everyone, that is great. It is also a whole other story, leading to a whole other problem…

If we aren’t having kids return to school and full-time remote (online) learning is implemented (or the part-time/half and half option Ontario has been discussing), we can’t forget about the families. How will we support them? If one parent needs to stay home (and in most cases this is still the mother, possibly perpetuating gender inequality) to provide childcare, what are we going to be doing to help them survive on a single income? The CERB is an excellent option, but is it enough for a large family? Will there be additional support and assistance available? Will holds on mortgages, insurance, and loan payments continue?

How will we protect their jobs, or help them find new ones when some semi-normalcy resumes? What do we do if both parents are essential workers or both teachers, for example? What protection and supports are we offering teachers and school staff? If they become ill or test positive, is there someone to replace them while they recover and quarantine?

How do we support single parents? Parents on work leave or disability? There are so many scenarios to look at and each one requires attention to detail because they are all so different. It really isn’t a “one size fits all” situation if this becomes the new reality. So as well as a good plan for schools (in either an opening or remote learning situation), we need to think about the families of these students and not put them all under one umbrella in regards to their needs for support.

I write this from the perspective of someone who lives, works, and raises a family in Ontario, but these questions need to be addressed everywhere. Many places were not as fortunate as Canada in being able to receive the significant financial assistance that we have so far. I am so thankful for what we have been given as we, my family, likely would be in a very difficult situation right now if we had not received the various supports we have especially because I was already on unemployment (at a lower rate than the CERB unfortunately) prior to the pandemic.

There are still be people needing help, in various forms, not just financially. Support can be given in so many ways, and we need to make sure that there are a variety of supports available for children, families, adults, everyone. I can’t cover all of the people and all possible concerns in this short blog post, but my message is that every step we make from now on regarding this pandemic should be well thought out, discussed with experts, and based in evidence. Any step we take forward, we should be thinking – will everyone be able to support themselves/their families through this change? Is this a feasible option for most people?

The impact of these types of decisions are huge and will have a lasting impact on many people in different ways. We need to think hard, invest our time and effort into coming up with a plan that is supportive of everyone involved (to the best of our ability, because nothing is perfect), and not jump to the course of action with the immediate benefit and reward (like… bars and restaurants reopening for example).

We need to make a decision that will have a positive impact in the long-term for the most amount of people. Right now, we’re thinking of sipping a beer on a patio in the summer heat and increasing our economic gain, and forgetting about the most important investment in the future we have – our children, and they can’t thrive without proper support from their government, their school, and their families.

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