'Inadequate' government guidelines leave Sask. parents looking to other education options

·4 min read

Some parents in Saskatchewan are looking to home-school their children or register them in distance learning for the fall because of what they call inadequate back to school guidelines currently in place.

Haylie Macintosh's one child was set to begin grade one in Saskatoon this fall, while her other child was supposed to start preschool.

Macintosh is a breast cancer survivor and her father has dealt with leukemia for more than a decade, so their family is well-versed in illness management and transmission. The current plan is not leaving parents with a lot of time or options, Macintosh said. She is almost certain she'll be home-schooling her kids in the fall.

"We already have overcrowded classrooms previous to this. How are we going to keep the desks far enough apart, number one. How are we going to prevent the spread of droplets in the air, number two," she said.

This is just one facet of what's going into her decision, Macintosh said. She wondered about sick time for students and staff alike, funding and why school guidelines seem to go against what government has said is necessary to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

She worried, too, about her daughter inadvertently bringing COVID-19 home from school despite doing things to keep her immunocompromised family safe. She said she didn't want her daughter to live with the guilt should something go wrong.

The government did say Monday that updated plans for back to school would be rolled out next week.

Schooling affects workforce

Macintosh runs a physiotherapy clinic in Saskatoon. Home-schooling her kids would see her mostly taken out of the workforce. She said she could maybe still see some clients virtually here and there, but nothing like how she was hoping this year would pan out.

The province should look at this as something that's happening in tandem with everything else, Macintosh said.

"It's a really extensive problem, and I think thinking of it as a single-unit issue [with] school board and schools, is going to end up ultimately creating failure in any plan that comes out," she said.

The president of Saskatchewan Home Based Educators said they've seen a big uptick in calls inquiring about home-schooling in the past few months.

Rod Amberson says they're getting five or ten times more calls as they usually would.

"We've been helping people navigate what the regulations are in Saskatchewan and how to get started," he said.

Amberson said he thinks that it's a mix of things driving the uptick. One thing he is hearing is that families enjoyed being together and learning together when schools closed earlier this year and they want to do that more intentionally come fall. Another thing he's hearing is the uncertainty that is driving a lot of the inquiries.

"I would say they're anxious about the spread of COVID in the schools and they're nervous about sending their kids to school."

Distanced learning

Regina mother Eva Dawn Backstrom has already registered her 12-year-old daughter for distanced learning with Sun West Education come fall. She's set to start Grade 8.

Backstrom echoed many of Macintosh's concerns when it comes to Saskatchewan's current plan. Backstrom said this was a good option for her because she doesn't have to submit plans, like you have to do in home-schooling, and it gives her daughter a chance at consistency throughout the school year.

The decision to send the kids back to school "left me with no faith," Backstrom said.

"A really good friend of mine is a teacher for elementary school and I worry for her health," she said.

Backstrom has been fighting tonsillitis for months now, and is scheduled for surgery. That, along with being in close contact with elderly people in her life and her dissatisfaction with the current plan, played a big part in the decision.

"So many things can go wrong. [There are] so many things that aren't being planned for and aren't being prepared for," she said.

Backstrom said she knows about a dozen other people looking into other options for back to school.