Editor’s note: In the second of our series on schools reopening, James di Fiore explains why his family will be home schooling this fall.
We didn’t think we had much of a choice.
That was the main thought my wife and I had when we finally decided to keep our kids home instead of sending them to school next week. Of course we did have a choice; keep our kids at home, or take the risk that they contract COVID-19 in the classroom. How high was that risk? Who knows, but even if it is a low percentage, how can we be expected to accept any risk to their well-being? Above Michelle with Caspar (left) and Lizzie (photo James di Fiore)
There have been positive developments heading into the school year that could have changed our decision, including the fact that we reside in a county that is relatively COVID-free. Madawaska Valley residents have been largely compliant when it comes to wearing masks and practising social distancing. I have been intermingling with the public since June as both of my jobs require me to deal directly with patrons and customers, and from my experience most people are trying to be cautious, even if they do not know for sure these measures are effective. This is our Pascal’s Wager moment, where even the social distancing sceptics among us carry on as if we believe in all these measures, just in case the experts are right.
We have been faring well as a community despite housing many of our summer residents since mid-March, and have not seen a spike of cases coming in from places like Ottawa and Toronto. Just as important, we have not seen ourselves on YouTube accosting those who refuse to wear a mask. It happens once or twice a day; a customer will enter the building without a mask on. I ask them if they brought a mask with them, and they tell me they have a medical condition that exempts them from having to wear one.
“OK, no problem,” I tell them. Sure, I sometimes get the feeling they are just people who do not like the idea of being mandated, but rather than argue with them, which would probably scatter lecture-laced droplets of saliva all over the library, I just leave them be.
Masks have become something of a fashion statement, but like a bow tie they remain unsuitable for most young children.
That is one of the other sticking points in our decision to keep the kids at home; the requirement for kids to wear a mask in the classroom seems either too difficult to enforce, or too depressing for the kids to endure. Our kids, one who is starting Grade One and one who is starting Junior Kindergarten, might be able to withstand hours of continuous mask-wearing, but now we have to put faith in every other child, and truthfully that seems naive at best.
These concerns are not the result of us placing blame, by the way. We understand school boards have a lot to deal with, and we generally accept the government is in uncharted waters (although lately Premier Doug Ford has used heavier language when speaking directly to teachers who are hesitant to give their approval to the new measures), but most of our concerns come from teachers themselves.
I personally know a half dozen teachers who are braving the classroom but have simultaneously decided to keep their own kids out of school for now. To us, that speaks volumes. Many of these teachers are friends of mine, so when I probed into exactly why they were not sending their kids back, I actually got answers that did not originate in some communications boilerplate folder. Rather, these teachers were confirming what our main concern revolves around; the idea that any kids who venture into the classroom will be the unofficial pandemic guinea pigs, waiting to see if any of them fall ill as we improvise our way through the first term.
Yeah, no thanks.
None of my concerns translates into judgment over those parents who are sending their kids back. We all have our own realities, our own worries, our own perspectives as we study infection rates, death rates, government policies, school policies, the virus’s evolving data insights pertaining to child infections, and other details needed to reach a final decision. Already we are finding negative ancillary issues such as the expected rise in our internet bills. We are off the infrastructure grid and get our internet using a portable turbo hub, meaning we pay roughly five times the rate paid by a person who lives on the grid. We expect to see internet bills in the range of $450 to $500 per month.
Despite some of our worries, our final decision leaves open the possibility of returning to class whenever we feel comfortable doing so. So to say we are all in uncharted waters is obvious, but what we decide while we attempt to navigate those waters is very personal, and should not be judged by anyone.
For us, COVID-19 seems too unpredictable. Just months ago, children were viewed as almost immune to it, but today kids and young adults comprise many of the new infections, and some have even died after falling ill. Younger kids, children around the same age as ours, seem to spread the virus less than adults, but a recent study also shows that older kids in grade schools – grades 5 to 8 – are more likely to infect others than adults, meaning elementary schools could see rapid infections if safeguards do not work.
Or, everything might run as smooth as silk.
Whatever happens, trying to balance the safety of our kids against all of the unknowns became quite daunting, and while we are certainly open to reassessing the landscape later this year or in early 2021, for now our decision to home-school feels like the right call for us.