Parents look to September for school return: poll



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More Prairie parents than not are concerned about their children returning to school anytime soon, even with COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing measures in place, according to new polling data.

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More Prairie parents than not are concerned about their children returning to school anytime soon, even with COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing measures in place, according to new polling data.

A recent survey of Canadians undertaken by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies — in partnership with the Winnipeg Free Press — found respondents were more comfortable with the prospect of sending students back in September than June, but overall, the majority expressed some concern with either scenario.

Seventy-one per cent of parents reported feeling “somewhat” or “very” concerned about sending their children to school in June. When asked about a return in September, that figure dropped to 55 per cent.

In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which were grouped together, parents’ thoughts more or less mirrored the national trend, with concerned respondents accounting for 75 per cent and 55 per cent of the Prairies group, respectively.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Schools will be required to maintain physical distancing measures, including limiting capacity to 50 per cent below normal levels, creating a designated entrance and ramping up washroom sanitation.

A total of 1,536 random Canadian adults were surveyed in Leger’s most recent weekly online COVID-19 survey, which asked respondents about everything from their fear of getting the virus to their thoughts on resuming school between May 29-31.

The margin of error is approximately plus or minus 2.5 points, or 19 times out of 20. (On the request of the Free Press, the research firm added two school-related questions to its list; only parents, approximately 400 of respondents, answered those questions.)

Andrew Enns, executive vice-president of Leger, noted an “interesting” contrast between the reopening phases in many western provinces and parent sentiments about classes resuming.

“I’ll be curious, in terms of how that manifests when September rolls along. Will they keep their kids at home?” said Enns, who is based in Winnipeg.

Of the total respondents, only six per cent reported feeling “not at all concerned” about classes resuming this month — meantime, that has already started in some Winnipeg schools.

Manitoba approved the limited use of schools for one-on-one tutoring and small group sessions this month, to offer students closure to the 2019-20 school year. Some schools have already opened their doors for half-day in-person instruction for the rest of the school year; others are inviting students back only once in June for an hour-long session with a teacher.

Alicia Easton, a Winnipeg mother of two young children, was preparing to send her daughter to kindergarten in autumn before the pandemic hit. Now, she plans to defer her five-year-old’s introduction to school.

“She is at that age where they will be wanting to touch and play and hug,” Easton said, adding she lives in a household with three people who are high-risk because of pre-existing conditions.

Misty Rückl, however, is eager for her Grade 2 son to get back into the classroom, after two months of tears, meltdowns and e-learning.

Rückl said she had hoped for a more robust return to the classroom at École Bannatyne this spring, but she will wait — fingers crossed — for one in September instead.

“People often refer to kids as germ factories, and I understand that, but at the beginning of September, if there’s routines and schedules and safety measures that are gone over and over and over with kids, they will eventually come to see that as normal practice,” she said.

“And I think it will really lessen the risk.”

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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