These words may never pass my lips again as a parent: “I’m so glad I live in Quebec.”
But watching Ontario as it waffles between remote learning, return to class or a hybrid of both, I want to get down on my knees in gratitude for Quebec’s single plan of full-time return for students up to Grade 10. Parental burn-out (which has moved beyond exhausted to dangerously dysfunctional for many parents) aside, there are solid reasons behind Quebec’s return to class.
Most important: kids’ mental health will suffer if they are kept at home. There are a number of studies that come with clear and direct recommendations to get kids out of their houses and into learning centres with their peers and teachers, including one penned by doctors from SickKids hospital in Toronto, CHEO in Ottawa, and another from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Another huge reason: the economy. The equation is simple: parents at home = parents who can’t work = an economy that can’t recover.
But let’s be more specific about the word ‘parents’. Largely, it is the mothers who are taking on the burden of care and schooling of their children. The New York Times recently cited a study that shows mothers with young children have reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers. Here in Canada, Statistics Canada reported women, who are more likely to work in the service sector, saw more COVID-19 job losses than men, and childcare issues have made it harder for them to return to work. StatsCan data also showed that lower-income earning women were the hardest hit. Where classrooms are closed, mothers are forced into the offensive and unacceptable position of choosing between their careers and their families.
Perhaps the most compelling reason: on the whole, Quebec’s return to class this spring was a success. Of course there are myriad caveats, and its initial roll-out was chaotic, but Quebec’s experiment worked for the most part. About two-thirds of students in the French system returned to class, and in June the president of the federation representing its administrators told the Montreal Gazette that things went relatively smoothly in the schools. The head of the Quebec Federation of Parent’s Committees echoed this sentiment, as did Alain Guy, chairman for the Western Quebec School Board, which, it should be said, only saw a return rate of 15 per cent of students.
Are there risks with sending kids to school during a pandemic? Yes. Quebec’s return to class saw 53 students and teachers diagnosed with COVID-19 and as of June 10, the province reported 10 students and 12 staff members were still ill, according to Canadian Press. A new study from South Korea this month also shakes our confidence that all youth are less susceptible to COVID-19, reporting that children under 10 transmit to others much less frequently than adults do, but those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults.
For sure, there are risks, and some people, like teachers, will bear the burden of that risk more than others. But as a society, we are just going to have to get used to accepting an elevated risk level that comes with living in a pandemic — because forcing our kids to stay at home for the school year is not a sustainable option.