Parents are deciding whether to send their children for in-person learning this September, as Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) asked them to pick a method of education this week.

TLDSB sent out emails to its families Aug. 7, asking them to re-register their children for either in-person or remote learning by Aug. 13. The board later extended the deadline to Aug. 17. The board’s schools are set to reopen fully in September despite the pandemic, but remote learning is still an option.

Haliburton parent Dulce Acero has a daughter attending Grade 8 this year. She said she has conflicting feelings, but will send her daughter back out of concern for mental health and issues with remote learning.

“I’m obviously worried about what could possibly happen with that many kids all in one place,” Acero said. “I don’t feel good about it, but I really don’t feel like I have any other options at this point.”

The TLDSB has published information on its plans over the past week. There will be many differences at schools, such as staggered lunches and recesses, mandatory masks for Grades 4 and up, limiting school visitors and high school students taking a reduced number of credits at one time.

Remote students will get a mix of at-home live instruction and independent learning through primarily online platforms. But the board has said exact details will depend on the makeup of students who sign up. Students will also be unable to switch after making a choice until at late October.

Parent Breann Nicole said she is unsure about sending her child into school for Grade 7 and intends to choose remote learning if enough parents opt for it.

“I believe the government is trying to restart the economy on the backs of our children,” she said. “There is not enough known about COVID for this to be safe.”

Unions have criticized the provincial return to school plan, calling for smaller class sizes and significantly more funding than the $309 million the province has allotted for safety equipment and additional staffing. Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation TLDSB local president Colin Matthew said TLDSB is working hard and there are many logistical hurdles to be worked out. He added the provincial plan details are thin and there is significant latitude for local boards.

“We’re still waiting to hear what their plans look like,” he said. “What we’ve put to the board is our primary concern … is the safety of everyone involved.”

Matthew added they want public health authorities to have a huge role in the process and be listened to.

As far as remote learning, Matthew said their hope is teachers can be dedicated to it without splitting their time, but that will depend on the numbers.

“I hope they (parents) make the decision that’s best for their family so that we can accurately assess what our staffing needs are,” he said. “I really hope nothing bad happens,” Acero said. “I hope everything can go as well as it possibly can.”

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