Concerns about safety mount as back-to-school gets closer

The Festerygas are anxious to get back to school.

“I’ll be able to go to Pokémon club and that’s really exciting at my school,” said William Feseryga, a Grade 2 student.

However, William and his three siblings may end up stuck at home this fall.

Sonia Festeryga, a mother of four, says that with each of her children in enrolled in a different class, the possibility of interactions is worrying.

“They’ll be spread out between three different schools. That’s a lot of risk mitigation for one family,” she said. “I’m leaning towards keeping them home.”

For Kate Conway, a middle school teacher with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, class sizes remaining the same at elementary schools is concerning.

“As soon as you have that class full of kids without the ability to physically distant experiences, things start to get a little hazy,” she said.

“That’s 25 students in a class that’s already too small,” Festeryga said.

Students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 will return to school five days per week across Ottawa and eastern Ontario. Kids in Grades 4 and up will be required to wear masks, while younger students will be encouraged to wear them.

Secondary school students will be split into class cohorts of roughly 15 students. Fifty per cent of classes will be taught online and 50 per cent of instructional days will be in-class.

Conway said the model of cohorting has flaws, as kids could mix on school buses and in sports and clubs.

“I’m worried and concerned, especially for the students themselves,” she said.

The Ontario government said it is committing $309 million in new funding to help reopen school safely.  

Eastern Ontario top doc optimistic for reopening plan

Despite concerns from some parents and teachers, the top doctor for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) believes the plan will work out for the best.

"I think it's going to work in the way they've set it up, EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis told CTV News at Noon. "First of all, there's going to be screening; kids are not going to be allowed to go to school if they're sick, or staff for that matter."

Dr. Roumeliotis says he believes each classroom will be a cohort of its own, and the children will only interact with each other.

"A classroom will be a cohort," he said. "What they'll be doing is spending the day only with those other students in that class, and that teacher, they're not going to be mingling with other students. The issue arises where you have hundreds of students mixing together, where you can get potential spread all over the school."

He says he's optimistic the plan will work, but no scenario will be risk-free.

"I think, with all these safeguards collectively in place, at this time, given the numbers, I think it's going to work," he said. "Will we get breakthrough cases? Maybe. Will we have to re-evaluate it as time goes on? Of course."