Parents, advocates for children with disabilities share concerns over school reopening plans
TORONTO -- As Canada prepares to reopen most of its schools, some parents and advocates across the country are voicing safety concerns for children with disabilities returning to the classroom.
Dartmouth, N.S. resident Meredith Tasiopoulos says her five-year-old son Eli, who has special needs, is excited to return to school. However, she still isn’t sure what returning to school will look like for him.
Eli has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak or walk on his own. Before the pandemic, school was the only place he received therapy and when he stopped attending school, Tasiopoulos noticed that the progress he made started to decline.
“We certainly see Eli's progression slow down as school stopped and he stopped receiving these supports,” Tasiopoulos told CTV News.
Since Eli is more vulnerable to COVID-19, Tasiopoulos said she is still waiting on detailed instructions for what her son’s school year will entail post-pandemic lockdown.
“We don’t want him to be excluded and we’ve worked so hard for our kids to be included and that would be a major step back,” she said. “He loves school, Eli loves school so much.”
In Ontario, a town hall meeting was held on Friday to demand a province-wide plan that will focus on the one in six students who live with a disability.
David Lepofsky, a chair member of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance said during the meeting that students should be given assurances that they will not only be safe at school but also fully included with the curriculum and activities.
“They have the right to be fully and safely included in the return to school this fall, that won't happen by accident,” Lepofsky said.
Some parents across Canada are also raising concerns, protesting their provincial governments to implement more staffing and rigorous safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Teachers and parents in Calgary and Edmonton are urging the Alberta government to hire more staff to make class sizes smaller.
“Last year, my younger daughter's class had 36 to 38 kids in it over the course of a year. There's no room in the classroom to spread out,” Kyla Stack, a concerned mother protesting in Calgary, told CTV News.
Some child psychologists say if parents are anxious about the return to school, so will their kids. Experts suggest parents practice physical distancing and wear masks around the house now so it won’t seem strange in schools.
Some health professionals are encouraging the return to classes all while the correct precautions are taken into account.
While parents may feel anxious about sending their children back to school, infectious disease specialist Sumon Chakrabtri said it is time for kids to return to the classroom.
“The time has come that we need to move forward with this step and it's going to be a bit nerve racking but, in the end, it'll be successful,” he said.