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Parents of immune-compromised kids say they’re being pushed out of public education system

Last Updated Aug 17, 2020 at 8:01 am PDT


Lack of distance learning options puts chronically ill kids at risk, say parents

Public distance options reporting long waitlists, parents consider homeschooling

Moms worry they will have to give up work to teach kids at home as distance learning fills

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Parents with immune-compromised children feel they are being forced out of the public school system by a lack of options as the 2020 school year rapidly approaches.

They say a shortage of distance and supported at-home learning or hybrid options means they are faced with trusting schools will keep their at-risk kids safe, or consider homeschooling, which means more sacrifices personally and professionally.

Jennifer Turnbull has three kids with chronic illness, including severe asthma, and says she just doesn’t know enough to be sure her kids are going to be safe from COVID-19 if they head back to the classroom.

“I am not feeling great about the return to school. We have kept an incredibly small bubble and have really stringently been following the CDC guides right now about keeping small bubbles. . . as you can imagine that comes with a lot of sacrifice.”

“To be thrust into this school year being told that our bubbles are now going to be these learning pods feels very scary. I’m not comfortable with it at all.”

Turnbull expected to see more options for September’s return, and if distance options weren’t to be made available for everyone, they should have been set aside for kids with health risks.

RELATED: B.C. students expected back in class by Sept. 10

Ashley, whose last name is being withheld for privacy reasons, has two school-aged children in the Coquitlam School District. Her daughter has chronic pneumonia.

“I’m really, really concerned. I don’t feel like it’s a sound plan at all,” she says.

“It just seems like a disaster because if you start looking at before and after school care added into the bubble, people’s bubbles are going to drastically expand,” she says, adding there are other family members also at risk.

Both parents are waiting to make their final decision as they are holding out hope the province will announce more funding for DL teachers and spaces, but fear they will have to alter their professional life and may lose some support.

“Am I going to have to reduce my hours? Am I going to have to have to just strictly work opposite schedules to my partner so someone is available to be with them?” says Turnbull, who says she feels more pressure to ensure her kids are focused and learning than ever before.

For Ashley, sending her kids back to the classroom, means the people who have helped run errands, bring groceries and keep her family’s bubble small, may have to pull back and help less.

“I’m lucky. I do have people that supported me… but all of that is going away,” she says, if she can’t come up with an alternative to in-class learning.

There are 56 public schools and 16 private schools offering distance courses, according to the Ministry of Education. Some independent providers have room but not all programs are appropriate for all children, says Ashley, adding a publicly approved curriculum is important to her, and sending her kids to a religious school isn’t what she has in mind.

RELATED: Lower Mainland home school programs in short supply as demand grows

Parents fear they will lose enrolment spaces

Because enrolment is mandatory come September, kids will have to be in class, learning through distance or distributed options, or be homeschooled.

But if parents don’t want to send kids in person, and can’t find an available public distance space, they are left with little outside of homeschool unless their district (like Chilliwack) is providing a hybrid model.

The fear many parents have, and some say they’ve confirmed, is that once a child is removed from the 2020 public school year, the spot they occupy in the system will be given up.

“We’re being put in a much harder and much more stressful situation by not having access to public education. We should have access to public education and that’s being taken from us.”

Ashley says she would be pulling her kids out of school and daycare and would have to leave a “cross enrolment” school.

“That means all of her friends are gone, and her community, and her sense of knowing where things are and whenever this passes over and I enroll her back in her catchment school, she’ll have to make new friends, we’ll have to find a new daycare spot (hopefully, those are hard to get) and she’s going to have to learn everything all over again,” says Ashley.

She says the province should allow families to freeze their spots at the schools and take more time to do what’s right for their families.

Turnbull is still waiting for more options but is leaning toward keeping her kids at home, which won’t be as big of a deal to her kindergartener as it will her nine-year-old.

“This is her community, these are her friends. I haven’t really broke the news to her yet because, again, I’m holding out hope, but she will be devastated. So I feel very heartbroken for them. I feel scared but more just sad, sad that they won’t have their community this year,” she says.

Turnbull is afraid the very small bubble she’s maintained is about to pop, and worries once her kids’ friends return to school they won’t be able to be in contact with them anymore.

“It feels very isolating and I do feel very sad about it,” she says.

Ashley says she sees how fast COVID-19 numbers are rising in B.C. after July and August long weekends and feels sending kids back right after Labour Day could be a fatal mistake.

“School is absolutely important; it’s critical but it’s never more critical than my children’s life. When people go to school and get COVID and bring it home.”

“Whether they get affected or affect their grandparents or their parents, and we start seeing losses there, that’s never going to be in the best interest of the child. Having parents pass away, a main income earner or caregiver of the child, because they’re susceptible, because there wasn’t an option, is just not fair.”