Many students in Manitoba will be back in the classroom come September, but some parents are seeking home-schooling services because they’re worried about how safe schools can actually be during the pandemic.
On Thursday, the provincial government released its back-to-school plans, which detailed which students can return to class and under what conditions, as well as the regulations in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Overnight, eight families applied for membership within the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home (MASH), a support group for parents who home-school or are interested in home-schooling. The organization’s two Facebook groups were also bombarded with questions on how to start home-schooling, said Jennifer Gehman, a MASH advisory board member.
“We just live in uncertain times right now, and I think it’s a little scary not knowing,” said Gehman, who’s been home-schooling her children for 24 years.
“They’re talking about a second wave, and what does that look like, and how safe and it’s kind of this hidden enemy. I think people are just nervous and worried … so I think parents are just thinking that athome might be the safest place to avoid COVID.”
There are other groups of parents, though, who are seeking information about home-schooling because a family member is immunocompromised, or they enjoyed remote learning so much in the spring that they want to continue doing it, added Gehman.
Ck2 Inc., which provides the Arrowsmith Program and Winnipeg South Homeschool Collective, also is seeing an increase in commitments to home-schooling for the upcoming year, said executive director Karen Friesen.
“Just even after yesterday’s announcement, we were seeing people who had been in the [Facebook] groups … saying, ‘Ok, yup, now I’m ready,'” said Friesen.
“I just really encourage people to take a look at what works the best for their family.”
‘What role are kids actually playing in transmission of this virus?’
The sudden increase in home-schooling inquiries comes off the heels of the Manitoba government’s plan for classroom learning come Sep. 8. But it also follows the publication of a study that found children can carry at least as much of the novel coronavirus in their nose and throats as adults — in some cases more so, depending on a child’s age.
The study doesn’t necessarily speak to whether children can transmit the illness, but it does show that children can harbour a lot of it, said Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba.
“It starts to beg the question: what role are kids actually playing in transmission of this virus?” said Kindrachuk.
“We know that they are seemingly infected at a lower frequency than adults are. But it does seem that when they are infected, even if they’re not showing a lot of overt symptoms, at the very least they have virus there.”
This new data also means people may need to think about back-to-school plans more cautiously, he said.
“I think we still move along as we have been. But if we start to see those surges happening in our communities, there are some concerns that we need to start to think about,” he said, citing making masks mandatory and revisiting the sizes of cohorts.
“But also basically appreciating the fact that our kids are vulnerable to this virus, and accepting the fact that all those precautionary methods and measures that we take, we may have to start issuing even more frequently for our children.”
The study’s sample size was small, and factors such as a participant’s race or sex, or whether they had underlying conditions were not specified. The tests also looked for viral RNA, the genetic materials of the novel coronavirus, as opposed to the virus itself.
Remote learning was not home-schooling
Both Gehman and Friesen want parents to know that the remote learning forced upon students in the spring — and many high school students in the coming fall — is not home-schooling.
“It was taking a school situation and translating it to your home environment,” said Friesen. “Home-schooling really allows you to be flexible with the type of learners in your household.”
A parent home-schooling their child gets to choose and design the curriculum, explained Gehman.
“Home-schoolers have access to the Manitoba curriculum documents… but we’re not given anything. We are on our own to find and implement,” she said.
Friesen added that Manitoba Education is open to home-schoolers and supportive of flexible learning environments.
“I think the direction that we need is to be able to equip people with the right resources at the right time, and we’re just in this amazing period where learners can access the resources that they need,” she said.
Both women also said that home-schooling allows for different learning structures that are designed to help a child learn however suits them best.
“[Home-schooling] has been a wonderful addition to my family. My children valued the time that they got to spend studying and following their passions, and I see them working in their passion areas now because home-school allowed us to do that,” said Gehman.
“Not that’s it’s always easy. There are bad days, and you’re with your kids sometimes 24/7. But it’s certainly been worth it, and I wouldn’t change a thing for my own family.”
Friesen also wants to remind parents who may be contemplating home-schooling that the switch does not have to be a permanent decision.