An open letter to MLA Judy Darcy and Education Minister Rob Fleming:
I am writing to express my concerns about British Columbia’s back-to-school plan for September 2020.
I live in beautiful New Westminster, where I am raising my two children. In addition, I am a public elementary school teacher in Burnaby and have been for 11 years.
Currently, B.C.’s back-to-school plan has mandated all students return to brick-and-mortar schools for September 2020. The rationale given is that schools provide a variety of benefits to students.
I can speak first-hand of the positive impact schools have on children’s lives, specifically physical and mental health. Over my 11 years as a teacher, I’ve been an advocate for my students by making calls to the Ministry of Children and Families due to suspected abuse. I’ve bought food, clothing and school supplies for my students when their families aren’t able to send enough, and I’ve assisted students and their families in accessing a variety of physical and mental health experts and programs including: counselors, dentists, eye doctors, doctors, and various other family services. There is no doubt that schools play an integral role in children’s physical and mental health.
However, given the current pandemic, I have serious doubts that mandating a full return to classes is in the best physical and mental health interests of students and their families.
By mandating that all students return to brick-and-mortar schools, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Mental Health are ignoring the potential serious and lifelong consequences to students and their families.
Some families have members who are medically high risk and do not feel safe sending their children to brick-and-mortar schools. Some students themselves may be medically high risk. Some students and their families are already suffering a high degree of anxiety due to the pandemic, and forcing them to return to school will cause further mental health complications.
I strongly feel that giving parents the right to choose whether they send their children back to school is the best path forward. Parents are in the best position to weigh the risks and benefits of sending their children back to school. However, for this to be done successfully, online distance learning must be expanded across the province.
Furthermore, by allowing families the choice of returning to brick-and-mortar schools or enrolling in online distance learning, student numbers will decrease in schools, which will allow for greater social distancing in the classrooms.
During this pandemic, my family has taken to heart the words of Dr. Bonnie Henry: “Few faces, big spaces.” It is clear that the strategy of being in close contact with few people and avoiding crowded, indoor spaces works to stop the spread of COVID-19. This is simply not possible in a classroom when you consider the 30 students, one classroom teacher, and any additional support staff. Reducing the number of students in a brick and mortar class by offering expanded online distance learning should be an option.
I want to go back to work with my students. I also want what is best for them and their families. Parents should have the option of brick and mortar classes or online distance learning classes.
Christina Pook, New Westminster