We did this crazy thing again—last Thursday, we sent Mark to school. Yes, in-person school, not sit-in-front-of-computer school. You’ve read it right, we dropped out our not-eligible-for-vaccination child to a semi-public place where he’s going to spend 6.5 hours a day indoors with other unvaccinated children.
The three of us couldn’t wait for in-person school to finally resume. Ontario leads the country in COVID-19 school closures—primary and secondary schools were closed longer than any other province in Canada, 25 weeks since March 14, 2020, if my math is right.
Mark is starting Grade 4. I hope he actually gets to learn something this year—“remote learning” was a disaster and stay-at-home orders were a boring, miserable experience. “The good part was that I didn’t have to wear a mask at home,” Mark says. “The bad part was… everything else.”
Back-to-school time during an ongoing pandemic involves dozens of last-minute emails from teachers, from the school, from the school board and from the provincial government, none of them relevant to education or the curriculum. Masks, drop off and pick up procedures, ventilation, cohorts, mental health support, designated entrance and social distancing dots are being discussed at length. Nobody wants to take risks, nobody wants to be blamed but a certain level of risk can’t be avoided.
I mean, it can’t be worst than last year when we had no vaccines, right?
But, but… variants!
Ah, you got me.
I’d better stay away from social media and news for a little while—too many people high on outrage. Canada is reopening borders for the first time since March 2020? Outrageous! Never mind that the fine print is “vaccinated travellers only, pre-departure PCR test required”, which kind of mitigates risks. Schools reopening? Outrageous! Don’t come and complain when a new lockdown triggered by your damn kids is announced! Mask mandates? Outrageous! Vaccine mandates? Outrageous!
Bottom line is, there’s no quick fix, no perfect solution. And even when part of the solution exists—unlike other places in the world, North America and Europe are awashed with vaccines—some people just don’t accept it.
At 8:20 a.m., I joined the mosh pit, i.e. parents gathered behind the fence. Mark was directed to the courtyard at the back and I stood there, chatting with other parents.
“I hope schools stay open until March Break next year,” a mom said.
“Or at least Christmas. Yeah, let’s make it to Christmas,” another added.
“Vaccination rate in Ottawa is pretty high,” I chimed in. “It should help protect kids.”
“Oh, because you think vaccines help?”
Shit. Another one. I keep on bumping into unvaccinated people. This is relatively new to me because in France, all my relatives, friends and acquaintances got vaccinated as soon as possible. But in Canada I discovered I had a few unvaccinated friends and neighbours, plus random people who make it clear that they aren’t vaccinated.
Mark seemed happy when we picked him up at 3:00 p.m. Most of his friends are in his class. “And we don’t have Plexiglas shields anymore!”
“Yeah… maybe it’s because there are too many desks in the classroom. I mean, we’re 30 kids.”
Should be a fun year.