Calgary parents torn over sending kids back to school

‘Am I a bad parent to send my son to school, or am I a bad parent to keep him at home? I do not know what’s worst ‘

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Calgary students return to class Monday after a COVID-extended winter break, but as the Omicron variant continues to spread at high speeds, not all parents are sure it’s the best decision.

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“Am I a bad parent to send my son to school, or am I a bad parent to keep him at home? I do not know what’s worse,” said Marcello Di Cintio, whose 12-year-old son will return to teaching Monday morning.

“Choosing between two awful choices, it keeps me awake at night.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced last week that K-12 students will return for personal learning despite the continued and accelerating proliferation of Omicron, which promises the delivery of millions of rapid test kits and new “medical grade” masks to schools by the end of the week. She and health director Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the benefits of mental health and education in going to school personally outweigh the risk of COVID infections in children.

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“There is high transferability in the community and it will come into schools and in classrooms,” LaGrange said Wednesday.

“But we need to mitigate it with the general health of our children. It is very important that they return to personal learning.”

LaGrange said students can not afford additional learning gaps after a back-and-forth school year 2020-21, where students switched between online and personal classes.

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Despite the province’s promises of a safe return, parents are divided on the issue. While some are happy to see their children return to class with their peers – and for the benefits of personal learning – others are not convinced by provincial officials’ claims.

“I do not know any parents who buy the line that what is happening right now – the decisions made by our government – are in the best interests of the children. They are in the best interests of working parents, in the best interests of the economy,” he said. Di Cintio.

When the province announced it would no longer conduct contact tracing or report cases in school communities, Di Cintio said the government has downloaded most of the responsibility to students and parents. Before the holiday break, schools would inform parents about positive matters and make close contacts.

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“We felt we were not supported from the start,” he said. “And somehow it has gotten worse instead of better. Attitude, shrug, the disappearance of those responsible has only intensified over the last few years.”

A sign outside Mount View School announces the postponement of return to classes Monday, January 3, 2022. Alberta delayed the start date to help schools deal with COVID-19 precautions due to the Omicron increase.
A sign outside Mount View School announces the postponement of return to classes Monday, January 3, 2022. Alberta delayed the start date to help schools deal with COVID-19 precautions due to the Omicron increase. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia

Medeana Moussa, CEO of the advocacy group Support Our Students, said the return feels like deja vu, with Alberta’s government once again dealing with education during the pandemic, as if it were a “short-term problem.” She said the delayed return of classes was “wasted” and not used to strengthen security measures or resources. With the elimination of contact tracking, she said students go back to school with fewer security measures instead of more.

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“There just doesn’t seem to be any political will to improve the situation and learn from the mistakes of the past,” Moussa said.

Moussa said her organization has advocated for and supported personal learning where possible throughout the pandemic, but the measures taken by the province are insufficient to ensure that teaching can continue personally for some significant time. She said she expects “complete chaos” for a school system on the brink of much more disruption within a few weeks.

“Just because we’re switching to personal learning does not necessarily mean we continue with personal learning, because we’ll run out of teachers… They get sick or have to be isolated or both,” she said.

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Among the more pressing concerns, Moussa said, is ventilation in the classroom. Support our students, along with more parents across Alberta, has advocated for HEPA filters in schools for several months, although the province has maintained that ventilation in schools is above standard.

Moussa said some school communities have taken on the task on their own. The organization has received reports that school councils have raised money to improve air filtration in their schools.

“When citizens start taking these measures and doing the work that the government needs to do, it is clearly a sign that the government is not fulfilling its obligations. People do not feel safe and feel safe,” she said.

The Calgary zone had 20,633 active cases with 208 in the hospital, including 27 in the intensive care unit, as of Thursday, according to AHS.

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mrodriguez@postmedia.com

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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