Parents of school-aged children have just days to lock in a decision, in the middle of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, as to how their young learners will hit the books for the rest of the year.

On Thursday, Jane McArthur sent a letter to the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) requesting a delay to the Jan. 6 deadline to opt for in-person or at-home learning.

“I think the decision that parents are faced with right now with having to choose a permanent learning model for the rest of the school year is an impossible decision quite frankly,” said McArthur.

The Ph. D. candidate at the University of Windsor is a single mother to two girls split between two schools.

Aelwynn, 12, and Eleanor, 9, attend A.V. Graham and D.M. Eagle public schools.

While McArthur would prefer her daughters to be learning in-person, she points to the increased exposure of separate student cohorts, the troubling rise of COVID-19 case counts and continued concerns with public health protocols in schools as reason to delay a permanent decision on a learning model for the rest of the year.

“Smaller class sizes, ventilation, more spaces – all the real structural things that need to happen to make this safer have not been done,” said McArthur.

Students are set to resume class on Jan. 4 first through virtual learning before elementary students become the first to return to class for in-person learning on Jan. 11.

The dates were set out as part of the Ford government’s province-wide lockdown, meant to suppress the spread of SARS-CoV-2 which causes the coronavirus disease.

On Dec. 11, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) ordered learning to move out of the classroom and to transition online effective Dec. 14 but, the order expired as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

In an email to CTV News, GECDSB spokesperson Scott Scantlebury says, as of right now, Jan. 6 will remain the deadline for parents to choose their preferred learning mode.

“The consideration for the board is to allow enough time before the changes occur in February to adequately do staffing and have everyone in place and the logistics in order to have a smooth transition,” said Scantlebury.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will also allow parents to make a change this month.

The deadline for notification for elementary students is Jan. 18 while for secondary students, the date has been set for Jan. 20. Transition dates are set for Feb. 1 and Feb. 3 respectively.

Parents are to be notified of the options early next week and a declaration will be posted on the board’s website.

McArthur appreciates the pressures local school boards face but, says the deadline shows a failure of government to understand the circumstances families face during the pandemic.

“There’s no great solution to any of this but, I think one of the things that COVID-19 has taught us is that we have to be consistently adapting and adopting and taking account of the conditions,” said McArthur.

In her letter, McArthur also suggests adding dates to switch modes of learning to allow parents to make a more informed decision based on the status of COVID-19 transmission in the community.