When should children return to school after the physical distancing at home during COVID-19?

The Quebec government is going to allow schools to reopen next week. I read about this today in the Globe and Mail and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Was this plan developed with teachers?”

I know that when we had to begin to stay physically apart, the first consideration was health. The measure of staying at home, apart from anyone but our immediate families, was necessary to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

As the Clinical Director of a Youth Mental Health Program supported by school boards and highly specialized teachers, in four separate classrooms, I have been able to observe firsthand the capacity of dedicated, thoughtful educators to change their teaching strategies within days, and even from hour to hour, to accommodate the complex demands of teaching students with special needs remotely.

It has been necessary in these past two months to teach their students – the children and youth of Canada – and our teachers have shown how dedicated they are to their vocation and our children.

In Quebec, teachers and students been told it’s time to go back to the classroom.  Who knows whether anyone even asked them if it was time or if it was necessary? Schools in Quebec are opening and teachers will be there. They are already setting up socially distanced classrooms and repurposing spaces. Two metre distances will be carefully marked out and there will be questions about whether masks will be necessary. Knowing how classrooms are funded, teachers are probably having to buy the marking tools to show the spaces and make the masks.

As they do with health care workers, governments can take advantage of the dedication of teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, school custodians and administrators. Not only do they have to prepare their classrooms and think about what they’re going to teach, they likely won’t even know if students have suffered deaths in their families because of the pandemic. There will be even more children hungry because parents have lost work. Some children will have lived in the terror of an abusive home for the past two months.

My colleagues in Child Psychiatry and I are dealing with children and youth who have suffered all these traumas. We were not prepared for this. Our partners teaching our patients not only have to deal with the child or youth themselves, but with their classmates who hear about their friends and will be worried.

This is a lot to prepare for in a week or two. The teachers I know will work hard to be ready for anything that happens, but it would have made so much sense to have asked them first how the reopening of our schools should happen and when.

When children and youth in Quebec go back into friendly, welcoming classrooms next Monday, there will be a smiling, enthusiastic teacher there to greet them. Thank goodness for that!

(This is an image from a classroom in the high school I attended in Montreal. I wrote about my Biology and Chemistry teacher a few months ago.)

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