Back to School – What Does it Mean for You?


Back to School – What Does it Mean for You?

Decisions surrounding back to school may never have been as difficult as they are this year. Whether you have previously been private schoolers, public schoolers, or homeschoolers, COVID has deeply impacted your education plans, and you are probably evaluating all your options.

You have regional, municipal, and local public health recommendations, advice from pediatric centres such as Sick Kids in Toronto, and perhaps your own family’s particular health circumstances to consider when making those decisions.  

PAFE always recognizes that the parent is in the best position to make the right decision for their children’s educational welfare.

Here are some factors to consider when weighing your in-person, online or homeschooling options in Ontario.

A) Return to public or private, in-person school


In-person, in-school instruction allows parents to have a teacher deliver education in a typical school setting. Returning back to school this fall might be necessary for households with both parents working. Parents will entrust the teacher to understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses and to adjust teaching styles accordingly. Parents of children with special learning needs may feel that trained teachers are best able to handle the unique needs of their children. Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital guidelines on school reopening advise: “Our recommendation from an overall health perspective is that children and youth return to a daily school model with risk mitigation strategies in place.” (p.6)


Some parents are fearful their child will catch the coronavirus and are concerned about being in a close learning environment. Also, some students are experiencing anxiety about being required to wear a mask all day long, and seeing others with masks.

Comparisons between the incidence of COVID cases in Sweden and Finland, which chose very different responses to the COVID crisis - Sweden choosing to not lockdown versus Finland locking down completely - show that for students 1-19 years old there was hardly any difference in the rates in the two countries.  Contact tracings revealed hardly any cases of children infecting others and the infection rates for teachers were not elevated over those for other professions. The conclusions of that study, carried out jointly by Swedish and Finnish public health authorities, was mirrored in another recent French study as well as Sick Kids’ reopening guidelines. 

A Finnish doctor who was an author of the Nordic study, Hanna Nohynek, cautioned that regional differences can elevate the risk.  She pointed to the experience of Israel, where re-opening schools led to more rapid spread of COVID among middle and high schoolers. Israel experienced a worse outbreak in society, and also has also bigger classes in schools, smaller rooms, and larger families, she said. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, also has stated that school re-opening guidelines should differ according to the severity of the outbreak in each local region.

Schools and boards are taking various steps to decrease risk, some of which are hotly contested by teachers unions and parents.  A database of precautionary measures being taken by the English public and Catholic boards in the GTA published by the Toronto Star is available here, if you have a Star account.

  • Efforts are being made to shrink class sizes by public boards, which are dipping into their reserve funds to add teachers.

In Toronto’s public board, schools in communities judged to be at higher risk by Toronto Public Health will have JK and SK classes capped at 15 students, while Grade 1 to 8 classes will be capped at 20.

Outside these communities all Toronto public kindergarten classes will be capped at 26, Grade 1 to 3 classes will be capped at 20, while Grade 4 to 8 classes will be capped at 27.

The model proposed by the province for secondary schools stipulates that class sizes be limited to 15 students.

Teachers’ unions in Ontario and BC are saying they might launch legal challenges over class sizes, saying that every class should have 15 students. Ontario’s Registered Nurses Association has also weighed in on behalf of a 15-person cap.

The lead health authority for the province says this is unnecessary.  "Is it risk free?" Dr. David Williams said of the province's school reopening plan. "No. School is never risk free in some senses, but it can be risk lowering, or risk contained. That's what we want with partnerships .... with groups like RNAO [Registered Nurse Association of Ontario] and others."

  • The province’s reopening guidelines proposed masks for students in grades 4-12, with students under grade 4 encouraged but not required to wear them.

Under pressure from the unions, some boards -- including the Toronto District School board, the Toronto Catholic board, Halton Catholic -- have made mask-wearing required for all students and staff, which brings them into line with local public health requirements on indoor gatherings.  Exceptions can be made for students with a medical reason. 

Ontario’s Registered Nurses Association is also endorsing a mask requirement for all students

Some parents are not happy about the mask requirement for elementary students, citing school re-opening guidelines from Sick Kids that state that there is limited data on the effectiveness of masks in children, and that several European countries have successfully reopened without them.

Dr. David Williams has also said that universal masking may be difficult to enforce. Some children may not be able to wear masks and should not be forced, he said.

"We don't want to make it a traumatic experience," he said. "So, we will encourage it."


B) Homeschool - Traditional or Online Learning


For some families, keeping their children home this year may be seen as necessary to protect those with serious medical conditions or risk factors, older parents or grandparents, or siblings who are at elevated risk. 

For others, perhaps you have been homeschooling for years and you’re used to customizing curriculum for your children.

If you’re thinking of homeschooling for the first time, you might find the website to be a helpful resource. 

The Alberta Homeschooling Association is recording much higher levels of interest in homeschooling this fall, continuing a pattern that was established during the outset of the outbreak.  “Once parents realize it takes one tenth of the time school takes to give a better quality, personalized education – we are finding, actually, a lot of parents from COVID schooling in the Spring want to continue,” says President Judy Arnall.

With schools now offering more online learning due to COVID, some families are choosing to homeschool fully online using virtual curricula. Keep in mind, there are other online homeschool curricula outside of those offered by school boards, so do your research.

Other families who homeschool choose to group together and hire a teacher, or share teaching duties among a group of families.


Students who haven’t previously been homeschooled may not be accustomed to this environment and will need to adjust. Also, it is challenging to homeschool if you are full-time working from home. Some families, however, enjoy the greater flexibility a homeschool schedule affords and will work homeschooling around their work day.

Also, according to Sick Kids reopening guidelines, students who have been kept home over the past few months due to COVID have suffered elevated levels of depression and anxiety, increased rates of substance use and addiction, and suicidal behaviour.

The re-opening guidelines from Sick Kids Hospital also judge that the board-sponsored online model of delivery “almost certainly would be insufficient to meet the needs of Ontario children and youth.” (p. 6)


Make the decisions that are best for you! Every family is different and should make the best decisions that work for them.

PAFE always recognizes that the parent is in the best position to make the right decision for their children’s educational welfare.

If you appreciate PAFE’s role in bringing you information  on issues of urgent interest to parents, please support us with a donation by clicking here.

Best regards,

Teresa Pierre, Ph.D.

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  • Teresa Pierre
    published this page in BLOG 2020-08-27 12:24:42 -0400