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Newfoundland and Labrador parents plead for details of school re-entry plan

Meagan Campbell says preparing her son, Asher, for kindergarten was always going to be a challenge, but the COVID-19 pandemic adds a whole new dimension to her concerns.
Meagan Campbell says preparing her son, Asher, for kindergarten was always going to be a challenge, but the COVID-19 pandemic adds a whole new dimension to her concerns. - Contributed
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Parents in Newfoundland and Labrador are feeling a different kind of nervous anticipation ahead of the coming school year.

On July 6, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released three scenarios for the beginning of the school year. Since then, no more details of the plan have been forthcoming from the department or the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD), leaving parents scratching their heads.

Meagan Campbell is getting ready to send her child to kindergarten. She says she has read the reopening plan and found it lacking in detail. She says parents need to understand how the school district will assess the risk of COVID-19 in the classrooms.

“They’ve given us a few scenarios and options as what things might look like, but I don’t have any idea as a parent what the timeframe would be like to find out that we’re going to be going to a different scenario,” said Campbell.

“Right now it's scenario one, but I don’t know when that can change, or based on exactly what other than the risk of COVID going up, which is a broad way to try and predict.”

Campbell says what’s lacking right now is certainty.

“It’s a double-edged sword. As a parent, you’re concerned for your child’s safety. You don’t want to send your kids to school if it’s not safe, but you also want to be able to have some sort of predictability in what kind of education your child’s going to be receiving even in the near future,” she said.

“I’m lucky with my employer, having some flexibility and working from home, but there are a lot of people who don’t have that option, to just all of a sudden be responsible for taking care of their child when normally they’d be working during school hours. You want to make sure that there’s a plan in place for your child to make the sure environment at school is safe.”

In a statement, the NLESD says more details will be made public soon.

“NLESD staff are compiling the final pieces of what will be a dynamic draft report for public release, which is anticipated to occur in the coming days,” reads the statement.

“The report will reflect the direction and guidance provided through the N.L. government’s plan for school re-entry and will provide greater detail and amplification for the development of site-specific plans. As staff wrap up consultations with our schools, staff and educational partners, the district is also awaiting final answers on key questions from public health officials.”

Gordon Little says the uncertainty of what’s coming in September is his greatest stress in life right now.

“If they open up, we’re going to participate per normal and basically just wait and see. How many students of the school need to get sick before they send everyone home? If they don’t do that quickly, then we’ll just keep them home,” he said.

“Everything is a gigantic guess right now. That’s part of the problem. Maybe this upcoming plan will help alleviate it a bit, but the government’s plan that came out was basically garbage. I mean, it threw together some ideas of what guidelines could look like and left it up to the individual schools. You have every school trying to reinvent the same wheel.”

Little has three children, two attending one school, one at another. He says that adds an extra level of complexity to planning the months ahead.

“If those schools have differing rules on how they do stuff, we have to juggle two sets of rules regarding all of this,” he said.

“What happens if one of the kids gets sick? Do I keep all of them home? Are they hiring extra bus drivers? Extra teachers? What happens if the teacher gets sick? How soon are they going to run out of substitutes if every teacher has to go off for two weeks if they have the sniffles?”

Ray Critch says he’d rather keep his child learning from home if there’s a chance in-person schooling will be interrupted halfway through the school year.

“The classrooms they’re going to be in are too small for the number of students to maintain any kind of physical distancing. My son is nine, he’s going into Grade 4 — good luck keeping kids apart from each other on the playground,” he said.

“What happens if they have to close it again? He had a hard time adjusting back in March when the schools shut down. He started having nightmares about technology taking over. The only way he could see his friends was Facebook messenger or Facetime chats. They couldn’t socialize in the way they used to socialize. … If it can’t be maintained consistency, the inconsistency is the real problem. Not knowing whether the schools can stay open is, frankly, more scary to me at this point than the prospect of them opening at all.”



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