As the clock ticks down for tens of thousands of kids across Ontario returning to class, one group is petitioning the government to reduce class sizes and demanding a safer return for students.
At Queen's Park in Toronto, a volunteer-lead group of medical experts, educators, students and parents, rallied for changes to the classroom. The Ontario Safety Advocacy for Education (SAFE) is demanding that the provincial government step-up and reduce classroom head counts. The group, led by parent and educator Kelly Iggers says more needs to be done to protect students aging into class.
"Our mission is to create awareness and advocate for safe and equitable conditions in Ontario schools with a focus on smaller class sizes and safety protocols based on scientific evidence and advice of public health experts."
The group began a petition which has gathered more than 250,000 signatures from those concerned with the upcoming school year which is only days away.
At the rally, Ahmed Al-Jaishi, an epidemiologist at Lawson Health Research Institute, voiced his concern and said the key and consistent message that many public health experts have been screaming for months, is that whenever we reduce the number of people in the space, we reduce COVID-19 transmissions.
"For anyone who has been in the classroom we know it can be impossible to physically distance when there are 25 or more students in the class and that's not including the teachers."
SAFE is asking for class sizes of 15 or fewer students.
The Ford government has faced criticism over plans to keep elementary class sizes unchanged from pre-COVID-19 levels and many school boards have yet to finalize their back to school policies.
The uncertainty, leaving parents not sure what to expect.
At a park in Riverside South, Laura Garrow is taking a break from work so the kids can play. She believes smaller is safer and has chose to keep her children Zack, whose starting senior kindergarten and Sienna, heading into grade two, at home in virtual classes.
"The kids are not able to do social distancing properly," says Garrow. "We were originally planning on sending our kids back to school when the classes were alternating days so it would be half the class on one day and half the class another day because of the small class sizes we were comfortable with that."
Garrow's plan is to take a wait-and-see approach on whether or not her kids will return at any point in the year.
Across the river in Barrhaven, at another park, parents Alex Shapiro and Olga Shykinova are planning to send their daughter, Sofia, back to school as she starts senior kindergarten.
The two aren't worried and feel that children will be safe in their respective classroom bubbles, no matter the size. Shykinova believes there is a higher risk when heading to grocery stores and thinks that it's important for the social development of children to be in a classroom together.
"We think the mental-risk of her being isolated from everybody is much higher then the health risk associated with the COVID."