Whitehorse Daily Star

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Ted Hupé

Anxieties numerous on eve of schools’ reopening

Some Yukon parents aren’t planning to send their kids back to school this fall, while others are increasingly concerned that the half-time school plan won’t provide a sufficient education to senior high school students.

By Gabrielle Plonka on July 31, 2020

Some Yukon parents aren’t planning to send their kids back to school this fall, while others are increasingly concerned that the half-time school plan won’t provide a sufficient education to senior high school students.

Parent Sonny Gray told the Star Thursday he thinks it’s “too soon” in the COVID-19 pandemic for kids to return to school safely.

“We expect to throw teachers and kids in close quarters without social distancing, without masks; I’ve got five kids and I’m not willing to gamble with their lives for an experiment,” Gray said.

“My wife and I sat down and said, ‘What can we do, how are we going to approach this?’”

Gray posted a social media advertisement seeking a tutor for his children.

He found that a number of teachers are also unwilling to return to school and are looking for alternatives –– like teaching kids at home.

Gray belongs to a small group of likeminded parents in his neighbourhood who plan on hiring one teacher to homeschool their children together.

“That’s what school used to look like anyways – small community schools,” Gray said.

Yukon schools will release their health and safety guidelines on Aug. 12 – one week before most schools start classes on Aug. 19.

Gray said he doesn’t think the guidelines will change his mind about homeschooling.

“It’s just too early for me; I’m not willing to risk my kids,” Gray said.

Other Yukon parents are concerned that the school plan, which will see Grades 10 to 12 students attend classes for half-days to limit crowding, will not provide students with the education they need.

Angela Drainville has two sons entering Grades 9 and 12 respectively.

She says her children struggled with remote learning last spring, and she isn’t convinced this school year will be more successful.

“I think the online learning experience for them was terrible,” Dranville said. 

“It was very inconsistent, there was really a wide variety in expectations from teacher to teacher – and it’s not the faults of the teachers; they’re not trained and they hadn’t had time to prep.”

Drainville said she’s concerned her son will leave Grade 12 less prepared for post-secondary than other students in Canada who were provided with a full-time education in their senior year.

“I think if the department (of Education) believes those children are going to spend an additional four or five hours on their own doing schoolwork, they’re not thinking logically about the behaviours and patterns of those children,” Drainville said.

Within her children’s social spheres, Dranville said, many kids are drinking and experimenting with drugs more than before the pandemic. Some of her sons’ friends have said they won’t return to school until things are back to “normal.”

Drainville is looking for a tutor to augment her children’s learning and prepare them for university. She said she’s worried that students without access to tutors will fall behind.

“When the public education system fails, it’s not going to fail the privileged kids,” Drainville said.

“It’s going to fail the students who don’t have those resources at their fingertips.”

Drainville and a group of other parents are requesting four action items from the Education department:

  1. Delay the start of the school year to properly plan and watch other jurisdictions;

  2. Consult with teachers, parents and students;

  3. Increase school funding so there are adequate resources for training and planning; and

  4. Develop a phased approach that will allow the school system to swiftly adapt to changing COVID-19 risk.

Drainville is also advocating for the Yukon to consider a school model similar to Abbotsford, B.C.’s.

That school district recently announced students will rotate through four semesters this year, not two, and only take two classes at a time, not four. This will limit the number of students who are exposed to each other.

“We’re so fortunate we live in such a small, nimble place, it would be a really awesome thing for us to try,” Drainville said.

“In general, (parents) feel that the plan was rushed and there hasn’t been enough effort put into it, and there was no consultation.”

Ted Hupé, the new president of the Yukon Teachers Association, (YTA), told the Star Thursday this week was “fruitful” for consultation with the Education department.

Hupé said teachers will be under a lot of pressure to quickly structure their school plans after the safety guidelines are released on Aug. 12.

“The one thing no one is happy about is the tight timeline,” Hupé said.

“(It’s) nobody’s fault, it’s just the circumstances we’re living under, and I know the parents aren’t happy because of the lack of information, but everyone’s trying their best to mediate the situation.”

Yukon teachers are largely in the dark about how to plan for this school year until the guidelines are released.

“There are a lot of unknowns and some of it is basic: ‘Where do I put my desk? How do I arrange my classroom to make it safe?’” Hupé said.

The lack of information is also creating tangible anxiety for families, he added. The health and safety plans will be pivotal in creating confidence in the school system.

“I’m hoping that’ll give the parents enough information so they can make an informed choice about returning to school.”

The YTA president said it’s “very hard to speculate” how many students will return to school next month.

Students have the option of learning remotely through the public school system, but schools won’t know how many students are taking that path until later this month.

Hupé recommended that families already set on keeping children out of school should contact their school principals as soon as possible.

There is also concern about the lack of substitute teachers. 

Teachers can’t go to work while experiencing any symptoms of sickness, putting more pressure on the already-strained stock of substitute teachers.

Hupé said the Education department is “frantically” recruiting substitute teachers to address this.

All of these unknown factors will need to be addressed before Aug. 19, Hupé said.

“We are hoping for the best, we’re planning for the worst,” Hupé said.

“We’re all trying to build confidence so that parents and teachers alike can comfortably return to school and face the challenges ahead.”

The Star’s request for an interview with the Education department to discuss the concerns was not responded to.

Comments (2)

Up 17 Down 20

At home in the Yukon on Aug 1, 2020 at 8:18 pm

There's NO COVID in the Yukon, folks. If we all got together and did a giant cuddle, none of us would end up getting COVID. We can relax. We need to relax. We should be opening our schools wide.

Up 23 Down 5

Martin on Jul 31, 2020 at 9:08 pm

Who is in charge here? The Schools or the Department? The Department should have published the safety measures to follow by now. Do the schools have PPE for all students/staff?

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