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LETTER: The challenges of getting back to school

File photo— Keith Gosse/The Telegram
File photo— Keith Gosse/The Telegram

When I turned 50 my family doctor asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a teacher.

He said I was in a high-risk environment and I should get a flu shot, which I did every year since.

I still caught a cold at least once a year, usually in spring time, but not the flu. The obvious conclusion I reached was that a school environment is full of germs.

This has not changed over the years.

What has changed is class size, building size, air conditioning and busing.

With air conditioning, windows are normally closed and if windows can be opened it upsets the heat distribution in the building. We have graduated from a one-room school where one can open a window to get fresh air and the number of people in the building is small, all from the local community, none of them needing a bus ride.

In the name of progress, efficiency and minimizing cost it is not unusual to have a school of over 1,000 persons in the building (students, teachers, special needs personnel, office personnel and managers), with about half of the students bused in, and coming from various communities.

The building is essentially sealed and air conditioned, with the air filters unchanged for extended periods. (Remember legionnaire disease?)

Half of the students start their day packed into buses, then packed into classrooms and end their day in another bus ride home. If there are two children in the family and both parents working, that household has opened up to four “bubbles,” at least two of which are large.

If left untreated, germs can spread exponentially until the whole population has been exposed.

What is the treatment? Health officials recommend keeping your distance from someone not in your bubble or small group of bubbles to at least six feet or two meters apart or less if both are wearing masks.

Masks are compulsory in public buildings including malls, shops, and restaurants, except when eating and in your own bubble. Disinfectant agents are available in these buildings.

After being used, chairs, tables, carts etc. are disinfected.

When it comes to schooling, there are problems.

Online learning for children at home is not an option for most parents.

Firstly, with many homes having two parents working, children cannot be left at home without an adult present. Secondly, most households do not have the specific software and, if they do, specific training is required.

Thirdly, home computer hardware and network lines may have to be upgraded.

All these options involve money and involve financial choices.

For example, a parent is very unlikely to quit his/her job to stay home, and, if they continue working, will have to find a qualified person to supervise the children.

The provincial government’s hands are tied, firstly by financial restraints and secondly by legislation as they are mandated to provide education and training for young people up to adult age.

Schools cannot be closed indefinitely without laying off hundreds of teachers and supporting personnel.

Perhaps the provincial government is hoping many parents will opt to keep their children home until a vaccine is found.

That would free up space in schools and buses with the result that students going to school may have adequate distancing.

Sometimes the best planning can lead to undesired consequences.

Ian McMaster
St. John’s

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