Government to reconsider child-care situation for essential workers if 'circuit breaker' extends

·2 min read
A COVID-19 outbreak closed schools in Newfoundland and Labrador for at least two weeks. Essential workers were left scrambling to find a place to put their kids. The solution, some say, is not ideal. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC - image credit)
A COVID-19 outbreak closed schools in Newfoundland and Labrador for at least two weeks. Essential workers were left scrambling to find a place to put their kids. The solution, some say, is not ideal. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC - image credit)

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says it will consider other solutions to a conundrum facing many essential workers if the province's COVID-19 outbreak isn't tamed soon.

The St. John's metro region moved into "circuit breaker" restrictions on Feb. 10 amid an outbreak, which was followed two days later by the entire province moving back into an Alert Level 5 lockdown. That meant schools switched to online learning and essential workers were left scrambling to find a place for their kids to stay during the day.

The solution proposed last week was to allow those children to attend child-care centres — but there is no obligation on the part of those centres to help the kids with their online schooling.

"These child-care services can choose to do so if they believe they can accommodate it," reads a statement from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. "In some cases this may not be practical, as services may have children from various grades and from different schools."

This left some essential workers with tough choices. One nurse who spoke to CBC News said she pulled her son out of daycare and switched to night shifts so she could help him with schoolwork during the day. She was worried about finding time to sleep.

Child-care centres operators also recognize the situation is not ideal, and have expressed concern in letters to Education Minister Tom Osborne.

Some suggested children would be better off if they could go to school and attend classes in person.

"We all understand the essential workers' cries they have to work because we are ourselves are essential workers," reads one letter obtained by CBC News. "If they can safely come to child-care centres, why can't they safely go to school?"

That potential solution poses its own set of problems. Teachers have been working from home since the province went to Alert Level 5, and are teaching classes using tools like Google Classroom.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development amended its policies to allow school-age children to attend child-care centres for the entire day.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development amended its policies to allow school-age children to attend child-care centres for the entire day.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association declined comment for this story, but raised concerns two weeks ago about having teachers in classrooms and not working from home.

The Association for Early Childhood Educators of Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, says there are many logistical problems when it comes to running virtual classrooms at childcare centres.

The biggest problem is that a centre could have as many as 15 school-age children at one time, and have one staff member left to handle their school schedules and troubleshoot technical problems.

Other concerns include privacy issues, not having wireless internet access for guests, and not having quiet spaces for kids to do schoolwork.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health, is expected to provide an update on the circuit breaker on Friday.

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