Students outside the Avalon Peninsula headed back to school Wednesday after two weeks of online learning.
The decision is not a welcome one for some.
Hannah Gillingham, a Grade 12 student at Botwood Collegiate, says that for safety reasons she would prefer if students and teachers in parts of the province were not taking part in classroom work.
“I think it’s best to keep online learning because it would ensure the safety of students, parents and teachers. When you are attending school with in-person learning, one person can have COVID-19 and it will spread like wildfire, just like it did in the metro region back at the beginning of February,” Gillingham wrote in an email.
The decision to return to in-school instruction was announced last Friday by Education Minister Tom Osborne and Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack.
It came after the decision to move the province outside the St. John’s metro region back to Alert Level 4.
When that decision was made, Gillingham created an online petition with hopes of avoiding a return to in-school instruction and, instead, keeping things digital for the moment.
It is the stance of many in her school would prefer and to date, she has received plenty of support online.
Since it was started on Feb. 27, more than 10,000 people have signed the petition.
“Personally, I really enjoyed online learning,” said Gillingham. “I thought the way it was laid out was really well and it wasn’t all that different from in-person learning, just safer for students. It’s something a lot of people in this province enjoy doing, based on feedback from my petition.”
Dan O'Brien, assistant director of programs for central and western schools for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said he appreciates the concerns that are being expressed.
He said they are the same concerns that were heard in September and the district proved then that it could make it work, and he is confident it will do the same thing this time.
O’Brien said early in the process of bringing students back to school in September it was communicated regularly that the district could and would take regional approaches to schools, using guidance from Public Health.
So, in areas where Public Health is not concerned about community spread and there are no issues related to the normal operations of school because of a prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, the district would keep schools open where it could, he said.
As for extending the shift system being implemented in the high schools to other grade levels, O’Brien said that won’t happen.
He said where the students can be cohorted — kindergarten to Grade 9 — meets the threshold of safety being recommended by Public Health where they are comfortable with having kids in school.
Not having all student in all of the time in high school is representative of a challenge that is built into the structures of high school, and that is the kids are in different groups all of the time, O’Brien said.
“So, if there was an incidence of the virus in a school it would be very difficult to contact trace and very difficult for us to know if we're able to contain it at all.”
O’Brien said the district is conscious of the situation some parents find themselves in.
“If a parent is really, really concerned, then maybe keeping their child home until they get a sense of what school is actually going to look like now might not be a bad idea for that particular family."
At this point though, he’s not committing that if parents keep their child home, there will be an online option while they’re waiting.
“We set up our schools to be open and it’s a complicated process to have our teachers working flat out full days and then, while they’re attending to the class in front of them in the day, to attend to the kids at home as well is a difficult prospect.”
Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice