Two weeks on from outbreak, Frank W. Begley reopening remains uncertain

·2 min read

It's two weeks since the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) closed Frank W. Begley Public School in Windsor because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and education officials are still not sure when the school will reopen and what are all the steps they'll need to take to get students back to class.

Begley was the first school outbreak in Windsor-Essex. Forty students and nine staff have tested positive for the virus. The school has been closed since the health unit declared the outbreak on Nov. 17. Students have continued learning by remote means since then.

Sharon Pyke, a superintendent of education at the Greater Essex County District School Board, says the board does not yet know when the brick and mortar school will be able to reopen.

"We are at the very beginning of talks with the health unit in terms of reopening Begley and what that looks like," she said. "We do know that we want students back as soon and as safely possible."

Pyke says what the board does know is that students will not be returning to the school all at once.

"And we know it's going to be a staggered approach. As to the date, it's not been established yet, but we're hoping for soon," she said.

The reason for the staggered approach is that not all students and staff began their mandatory isolation at the same time.

"So when we do our reopening, we really have to work with the health unit, and on advice of them," she said.

Pyke added that the school board is ensuring that there will be ample mental health supports available for students as they come back to the physical school. She also says that the school has been thoroughly deep-cleaned in preparation for reopening.

"We're feeling pretty confident that when kids come back, their environment is going to be safe," she said.

Effects on students and families

The school's closure means that students have had their education disrupted in a difficult year.

Sarah Al Msaytem, a student at the school, says that while she feels safe with online learning, she doesn't prefer it to in-class instruction.

"It's too hard to pay attention," she said, adding that she also prefers going to the school so that she can play and talk with her friends more.

Jacob Barker/CBC
Jacob Barker/CBC

This all comes while Sarah's brother Mohammed, who has COVID-19, has been isolating in the family's house.

"He coughs a lot, and he sneezes," she said.

But Sarah's father Fahed, who has four children in school and one two year-old, says that while he's worried about his son's condition, he is confident that he'll eventually be able to send his children back to Begley safely.

"No ... I don't have any problems," he said.