Deciding whether or not to send kids back to school was something that created a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety for many parents.
For the Bellissimo family, the one thing that made them feel better about sending their son, Mavric, to senior kindergarten was knowing there would be only up to 15 students in the classroom.
Three days into the first week the school called and told them two classes would be combined, totalling approximately 30 kids, and no remote option is available for this grade.
“It’s very upsetting; it was very stressful making the decision to send him back to school knowing the situation,” said Domenic, Mavric’s father.
Part of the reason this is a difficult situation for the Bellissimo’s is that there are a number of high-risk family members in their household.
“They’ve really put us in a difficult situation,” added Domenic. “We have a three-month-old at home, I’m an asthmatic, and my parents reside in our basement. It puts everybody at risk.”
Domenic’s mother, Anne, said one of the most infuriating parts of the situation is that Premier Doug Ford has been telling people they’re ensuring proper distancing protocols, but this is evidence it’s not happening.
“They’re saying things on the news, telling people schools are following the guidelines set out by Sick Kids Hospital, but they’re not telling the truth,” she said.
The Bellissimo’s can’t seem to get a straight answer, however, as to whether the blame lies with the province or the school board.
“Everyone keeps passing the buck. When you call the school, they say their hands are tied because they’re not getting funding,” said Domenic. “When you call our MPP, they’re saying it’s the school boards.”
According to a spokesperson for the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), the class size is within regulations.
“(That) particular class has 27 students, which is within our collective agreement and Ministry requirements,” said UGDSB spokesperson Heather Loney.
She added class-reorganization is something that typically happens every September, following committee reviews of the number of students anticipated to enroll versus how many actually enrolled.
“(At MVPS) those projected numbers ended up being lower than the actual number of students who are attending in person, and as such the school was required to reorganize classes,” said Loney.
Loney noted the school is implementing several strategies to ensure spacing is possible for all students and staff, even amidst these changes.
“(They) have several strategies around physical distancing to ensure there is as much space as possible between students,” she said. “These include utilizing outdoor space for learning and accessing other spaces in the school for smaller groupings, as an extension of the classroom.”
But the Bellissimo’s aren’t very confident those measures can be put in place.
“We’ve seen the classroom; there’s no way social distancing can be implemented there,” said Domenic. “They say there is one staff member to 15 students, but they’re still all in the same room.”
The family said when they contacted local MPP, Sylvia Jones’ office, a staff member they spoke to suggested they consider private schooling
“They were so quick to make sure we got $200 when the teachers went on strike,” said Domenic. “Are they going to give us back money for taxes we pay into public schools if we’re having to switch to private?”
The idea that their solution was to remove his child from public school was baffling to Domenic.
“It just rubs me the wrong way,” he said. “You’re pushing us into the private sector when we have to pay taxes into the public sector. They’re using our children as guinea pigs.”
When contacted by the Banner, the Ministry of Education did not answer questions regarding the situation, but spokesperson Caitlin Clark provided the following statement:
“Our plan to safely reopen schools has been informed by the best medical and scientific minds in the country. We are proud to lead the nation in COVID-19 school reopening funding, an aggressive masking policy for grades 4-12, hiring up to 1300 custodians and $75M in additional cleaning funding, along with the hiring of 625 public health nurses to support student health in our schools.
The leading medical advice was clear that we must allow an opportunity for our students to return to school, combined with layers of prevention to maximize health and safety. We have done exactly that.
We will never hesitate from taking further action to protect the health and safety of Ontario’s students and education staff.”
As of September 21, the Bellissimo’s had not received any further information regarding whether the situation can be changed. Given the latest developments provided by the province on gatherings this weekend, their confidence in the safety provided by the school continues to decrease.
“The landscape has changed on the weekend, and now you’re only allowed 10 people inside that you know, and my son’s in a class of approximately 30 kids,” said Domenic. “If they’re acknowledging the fact there’s spread even more now, but they’re still going to leave kids in a class this size, it’s quite concerning I’d say.”
STORY BEHIND STORY: With more students registering for remote learning, school boards are shuffling the chairs inside classrooms. It is an important story to tell because the number of students in a class will impact the ability to physical distance.
Tabitha Wells/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Banner