By the end of March, the Alberta government was making decisions around how to safely manage people. During the spring break week, officials decided that children would not return to school. While evidence out of China showed that children were less likely to get sick, there was no information about how the virus was transmitted by and through children. At first, the closure period was indeterminate, but within a few weeks school boards transitioned to online learning for the remainder of the term.
For some families, online learning worked well. For families with younger children, it was very challenging.
Some families did not have enough computers for their children to attend online school. Employed parents discovered supervising their children’s education while trying to put in a full day’s work was next to impossible. Confined to close quarters and away from their friends, children were restless.
Over the summer, Covid cases continued to stay low and the UCP government decided to open schools, leaving the decision up to parents as to whether they would choose online learning or in-person classes.
The decision was agonizing for parents. Jurisdictions around the world had mixed results. Denmark had no Covid cases as children returned to school, but they limited in-person classes to children in the lower grades, had 15-person “pods”, and prevented interaction between the groups. Older children learned from home. On the other hand, Israel had hundreds of children test positive within the first few weeks.
Karen Simonson and her husband, David Cheoros, made the choice to send their children to school.
Elizabeth was entering Grade 1 and Sophia was going into Grade 4. Their school, Victoria School of the Arts, had staggered entry after an orientation, which they missed as Karen had a sore throat. Elementary classes started the Tuesday after the September long weekend. However, 34 percent of people elected to have their children attend school from home.
“Sophia was excited, as she missed seeing her friends. Elizabeth was worried, but is having a good time. She ran to school one day last week because she wanted to see her friends,” said Simonson.
By the end of September 2020, there had been one case of Covid in Grade 2, but Simonson expected to see more cases in high school students. “The way they hang out in groups and some are masked some are not. I see more kids hanging out outside school as they can’t hang out inside. They might be in junior high.”
“Elizabeth has the same teacher as in kindergarten, so I know her. I’ve had nothing but an email introduction from Sophia’s teacher. This is very different from in previous years.” Simonson explained, “Last year, I would pick the girls up and we talked to the teachers every day. Now there is a designated area outside for kindergarten and Sophia wanders over to the pickup point as she’s out first.”
Simonson is part of a Facebook group for the Grade 4 parents.
“It’s a guessing game on classes. Do they wear their masks all day? They say they do. I don’t know if they wear their masks for recess outside.”
Children attending Grade 3 and under did not have to wear masks, based on the theory that they are less likely to spread Covid (possibly because their lungs are small and the virus depends on respirator drops to spread), and also because it would be very difficult for one teacher to police wearing masks for children that young.
Recess also changed. “It’s in the courtyard. Each class has a section of the playground for recess. Grade [4 students] have the back field and don’t mix with the other Grade 4 class. They play running and skipping games on the back field. Sophia came home with skipping injuries the other day.”
The school experience is much different compared to school pre-pandemic. Students had no lockers, and parents no longer visited children’s classrooms making developing the relationship with the teacher difficult to establish.
“The Grade 4 teacher sent a networking email out at the beginning and there were introductions through School Zone [the school online communication portal].”
She continued, “Elizabeth has the same teacher as in kindergarten, so I know her. I’ve had nothing but an email introduction from Sophia’s teacher. This is very different from in previous years.” Simonson explained, “Last year, I would pick the girls up and we talked to the teachers every day. Now there is a designated area outside for kindergarten and Sophia wanders over to the pickup point as she’s out first.”
She compared the experience of having her children attend school to their summer break.
“It’s been nice. They’re getting along better, going to bed tired. Especially after the isolation of summer.”
The family hasn’t thought too much about any school closures yet.
“We’ll figure it out if it comes to that. We [will] look back and say we survived it,” said Simonson.
If one of Simonson’s children needed to isolate because of being exposed to the virus at school, she would likely keep both her girls home.
Simonson talked about what it was like for their family over the summer. “We had been seeing my mom through the summer, but stopped when school started. We will do a backyard visit for her birthday with [my] mom and sister. It’s hard on my mom. She’s by herself. Seeing the girls was the highlight of her week.”
She continued, “Sophia’s birthday is in the summer. She turned nine. From April, she’d been worried about her birthday. I sent messages in July to parents.”
The logistics of a party were much different than other years. Cheoros used to work at the Garneau Theatre and they rented it for the party. Sophia picked her movie (Descendants 3).
“We all wore masks, as it is the bylaw. We rented the whole theatre. All the kids had to sit away from each other. We played games from the stage. She did have a good time. All the kids got popcorn and a drink and cupcakes at the end. Sophia stood on stage when we sang Happy Birthday. Of course, there were no candles.”
How we handle the future is uncertain, but people still make plans. Simonson said, “We discussed not having the girls go to school for the last week before Christmas so they have two weeks before seeing family.”