School-age

Should kids be sent home because of a runny nose?

Even authorities aren't sure, but with COVID testing lines snaking around the block and flu season upon us, we need to figure it out.

The first weeks of this school year were always going to be rocky, as families and teachers adapted to all sorts of new COVID-19 rules, including wearing masks, physical distancing and cohorting. One of the thorniest problems, though, turns out to be a condition that returns every autumn: runny noses.

Each September, colds and allergens flourish as kids mingle in often tight facilities. Schools are filled with youngsters reaching for tissues (and sleeves) to wipe their noses. This year, shoving tissues into a backpack isn’t enough, as parents try to decipher whether their child’s runny noses are caused by seasonal allergies, colds or COVID-19. Depending on the rules of each province (and health region), the sniffles could necessitate getting a negative COVID-19 test before a child can return to class. Within days of schools reopening, thousands of parents laid siege to testing centres across the country, children in tow.

Testing delays were inevitable. The worst province for bottlenecks appears to be Ontario. At one testing site in Kitchener, people reportedly began lining up at 2:30 a.m.; by 7 a.m., there were long lines of cars as far as the eye could see.  Another testing centre in Ottawa closed minutes after it opened, after waiting residents grabbed every testing spot for the day. Some waited days for results. As of Sept. 24, Ontario reported having more 50,000 tests under investigation, with around 35,000 new ones coming into its laboratories daily.

The pressures on parents and the public health system kept mounting. On Sept. 21, British Columbia removed “runny/stuffy nose” from its student health checklist used by parents each morning, along with sore throat, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and five other symptoms. “If you have a slight runny nose by itself then, that in and of itself is not a reason for a child, and we’re talking about children here, to necessarily stay home from school,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief health officer. “This was a recommendation from public health to remove some of the symptoms, given the very low probability of these symptoms by themselves indicating COVID,” the provincial ministry of health told the CBC. “They are also very common in children so there are concerns that it would unnecessarily exclude children.”

Other classic COVID-19 symptoms, including a fever, chills and shortness of breath, remain on the B.C. checklist as reasons for kids to stay home, and possibly need a COVID-19 test.

Whether runny noses/nasal congestion is deemed by the province to be a COVID-19 symptom for children (some provinces require two or more symptoms for testing):

For up-to-date information about outbreaks, closures and case numbers in schools across Canada, head here.

Editors’ note: Your particular daycare or school may also have their own specific policy about runny nose symptoms, so be sure to check in with your administrators.

School-age

A strong student-teacher bond will help your kid catch up at school

Teachers need to have agency to shape the learning environment, and address their students’ emotional well-being before embarking on an ambitious plan to make up for lost academic time.

Many Canadian children are now returning to their classrooms after schools shut down in March to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Classrooms under strict health guidelines are very different to the settings children knew last spring. The children may be different too, having experienced family stress brought about by fear, uncertainty or life-changing events related to the pandemic, such as family violence.

Students’ learning loss over the summer months has long been the subject of research concern — some call it the “summer slide.” COVID-19 school closures have been almost three times as long as a summer vacation, prompting some to discuss a potential COVID-19 slide. Researchers have projected that due to pandemic school closures some students may have lost a year’s worth of learning in some elementary grade subjects — particularly more vulnerable students who have faced traumatic events during the shutdown.

The amplification of the effects of learning loss is an important consideration. But directing attention to missed learning should not mean overlooking the powerful contribution of relationships, well-being and mental health to student success — an elevated priority for children who have experienced fear and trauma related to the pandemic. How school districts respond may have a lasting effect on this generation.

Excessive stress prevents learning

Educators can alleviate some of the negative consequences of excessive stress and enhance children’s well-being through positive and attuned relationships — relationships where educators are tuned in, aware of and responsive to children’s emotional needs as they are being expressed. Well-being is a required condition upon which achievement is built.

The growing international body of evidence on the impact of social isolation on the mental health and well-being of young people has led to calls for school systems to take a balanced approach to reopening, addressing children’s mental health as well as their educational needs.

Children experiencing increased stress, anxiety and worries as a result of the pandemic are operating in a state of high alert. This affects their ability to regulate emotions and impulses, and to attend to, reflect upon and remember information, as well as to engage in constructive relationships with others.

In a spring report for UNESCO, as children and their teachers were entering the new world of distance learning and isolation, renowned educator Armand Doucet and his colleagues argued that students needed to feel safe and have their basic needs met as a priority.

Regulation of stress through relationships

The ability to regulate students’ stress and anxiety through classroom relationships is a powerful tool to support academic outcomes.

Attempts to fulfil urgent academic expectations, without addressing children’s fundamental need for emotional safety, will exacerbate children’s feelings of stress and anxiety and even further challenge their ability to self-regulate.

When children experience this state of imbalance, they perform more poorly in school. Their bodies go into a state of fight-or-flight, with survival being the primary focus, leaving little room for learning.

Educators have been subject to the stresses of the pandemic too. In a survey of 17,352 Canadian educators by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 44 per cent expressed concerns about their own mental health and well-being.

Here are three ways school systems and school leaders can support student emotional well-being to ground academic success.

Foster teachers’ sense of personal and professional safety

In order for educators to attend to the well-being of their students, they must also prioritize their own well-being.

When school systems and school leaders provide reassurance of personal safety, opportunity to collaborate with peers and time to adapt their classroom practices, they contribute to educators’ sense of well-being. Research suggests that perceiving that decisions and actions can impact life outcomes is associated with lower work stress, greater likelihood of asking for support and positive thinking.

Teachers need to have agency to shape the learning environment, and to assess and address their students’ emotional well-being and readiness to learn before embarking on an ambitious plan to make up for lost academic time. When teachers feel safe and supported, they will be better positioned to support their students through responsive relationships.

In turn, students connect to teachers’ cues and feel soothed and safe. Through the important co-regulating responses of the educator-student relationship, children’s autonomic nervous systems (the primary mechanism behind the fight-or-flight response) are calmed. This creates a state of readiness to engage and learn.

Modify academic expectations

Curriculum documents lay out expectations for each grade. There is no prescription for the timing of delivery, nor of the pacing. As professionals, teachers are well-aware of curricular expectations, and they modify pace and order to suit their class. Principals, vice-principals and any teachers in school leadership roles should recognize this need, and signal to teachers that this is OK. Teachers will plan to meet curriculum expectations as they always have, but there may be modification in their planned timelines particularly at the start of the year.

Encouraging teachers to set reasonable expectations and being kind to themselves will also support positive mental health. Self-compassion supports feelings of safety and security.

By accepting that things are different, and curbing the propensity to take on unrealistic timelines for improvement, educators can help students transition from a state of heightened stress to a more balanced state — a precursor to learning and success.

Build relationships with families

By taking an interest in how families are doing, and really listening, school-based educators take the lead on building more caring relationships with children and their homes. Home-school partnerships are crucial to understanding children’s well-being needs, and prioritizing them would help realize the pandemic’s catch phrase of collaboration and mutual support: “We’re all in this together.”

Making children feel emotionally safe and supporting their ability to self-regulate through positive relationships, and prioritizing teacher well-being and family connections, will support the quest for academic success.

Lisa Bayrami is a contract lecturer in the department of education and the department of interdisciplinary studies at Lakehead University. This article was co-authored by Penny Patrician, who holds a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, and who works as an education consultant.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

School-age

Back to school—and still not serious about COVID testing

Any suspicion of a sore throat or a hint of wheeziness, and a parent is asked to peremptorily remove their hapless pupil who is then taken to a coronavirus testing centre. That's where the tedium really begins.

Timothy Sly is an epidemiologist and professor at the school of Public Health at Ryerson University. In 2003, he was involved in the management of SARS in Toronto.

Since the advent of the pandemic, the entire global community has found themselves several steps behind where we should have been, as this wily virus continues to visit its devastation upon our physical, mental, and economic health. Some locations responded so rapidly and with such forethought, they’ve hardly even noticed the pandemic. In this category, Taiwan is the poster child we all wished we had emulated. Canadian comparisons, however, are invariably drawn against our large southern neighbour, and even a quick peek over the fence at the raging dumpster fire initially in New York, and now in some of the southern states, is sufficient to allow us a soupçon of, if not superiority, then at least a Canadian modest satisfaction.

But classrooms are now open, and masked kids of all sizes are enthusiastically following unfamiliar floor markings to new homerooms, where they listen intently to the lengthy list of precautions, preventions and protections. Already in our first week, any suspicion of a sore throat, a slightest temperature increase or a hint of wheeziness, and a parent is requested to return to the school and peremptorily remove the hapless pupil who is then often taken to a testing centre. And that’s where the tedium really begins—long lines of prospective testees, some of whom report waiting for four or five hours only to be told they will have to return the next day. Similar scenes are playing out across Canada due in large part to the return to school. One Ontario school has already closed down after three staff members were found to be positive.

Clearly, the need to know who is positive at any one time has never been as important. But one of the painful characteristics of the virus causing COVID-19 is what must be described as its “stealth.” At least 40 per cent of virus-positive individuals are asymptomatic. Without sufficient, rapid, reliable testing, available at high volume, attempts to control this virus will, at least half of the time, resemble a blindfolded “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.” From the very beginning it’s been clear: follow only the symptoms and you miss half the infections. You would think that lessons learned from Ontario’s embarrassing performance during SARS-1 would have resulted in a greatly-informed public health decision-making process 17 years later.

After more than six months Canada has carried out more than six-million tests nationwide, but while we sit in 29th position on the scale of COVID deaths-per-million-population (243), we are at 40th position globally on the scale of COVID  tests-per-million-population (168,000), next to Saudi Arabia. Even Portugal and United Arab Emirates have been a lot more active in their testing programs. Remember New York? That city’s testing program is already one of the most ambitious in the country, swabbing more than 200,000 people a day, which is more than two per cent of all city residents.

One of the many criticisms levelled by Justice Archie Campbell in his 2006 report about Ontario’s response to SARS-CoV-1 was that decisions throughout the response were delayed by adhering to the “scientific dogma of yesterday,” the need to be 100 per cent certain of effectiveness before action was taken. “We should be driven,” insisted Justice Campbell in 2006, “…by the precautionary principle that reasonable steps to reduce risk should not await scientific certainty…In any future infectious disease crisis, the precautionary principle [should] guide the development, implementation and monitoring of procedures, guidelines, processes and systems for the early detection and treatment of possible cases.”

Epidemiologist and professor Richard Menzies of McGill University has just completed a review of 23 studies of saliva tests, requiring no lineups. You clear your throat, spit several times into a vial, and send it in. “Saliva testing,” Menzies said this week, “turns out to be as good—maybe even better—than nasopharangeal swabs for COVID.”

But Minister of Health Patty Hajdu maintained on Wednesday that the government “has not had a test submitted to Health Canada for approval yet that satisfies the regulators’ concerns.” One cannot help wondering whether the regulators are actively seeking such testing or waiting for tests to be sent to them. And are they holding out for 100 per cent precision?

Any epidemiology student knows that all tests, for all conditions, have false negatives and/or false positives. This also includes mass screening programs, case definitions, vaccines, masks, airport thermography systems, and so on. They all carry less than 100 per cent sensitivity and specificity. Physical protection is achieved by “layering,” and in the same way repeating the test gets close to a perfect score. A 96 per cent sensitivity on the first test becomes 99.8 per cent on a second test, missing only two positives in a thousand.

In the U.S., five saliva-based tests have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including a test developed by Yale University researchers. Holding out for the perfect test to come along cannot be called a valid public health policy, especially now that schools have opened up, the case count is on the rise again, and the testing lines are four-to-five hours long.

School-age

5 ways to support online home-schooling through the coronavirus pandemic

In-person school may be back in session for most, but some kids in Canada are still doing remote school. Here's how parents can support their e-learning.

This fall, some elementary and high school students will continue with online learning due to COVID-19.

When classrooms went online due to COVID-19, this marked not only a major transformation in kindergarten to Grade 12 education, but a shift in parents’ involvement in their children’s education. Schools communicated primarily online via email and social media (or sometimes the phone) to keep in touch with parents, and every family had to determine to what extent supporting remote learning was possible.

This shift built upon changing patterns which emerged years ago, as parental “e-nvolvement” is now in many schools today. Now, there is greater reliance on technology not only for teacher-parent communication, but technology has also become embedded within projects and homework.

Students are increasingly likely to become engaged in online or hybrid (both in class and online) learning, and this is not only due to the pandemic—there has been a rise of online learning in school systems. Researchers’ understanding of how parent involvement supports students when students are engaged in hybrid and in fully online educational environments is developing.

Some parents who chose remote learning for their children this fall could also be facing work schedules or family circumstances that make supporting remote learning difficult. Fortunately, small acts of parental support and encouragement can have big impacts on student success. Amid the varied constraints and barriers families face, there are myriad ways parents can and do support their children’s education.

1. Motivate by taking an interest

Parents can be an important source of motivation for their children, but not only in terms of reprimands and rewards. Parent involvement, which gently motivates students through encouragement and support has been shown to be effective in promoting student success.

Research suggests motivation to persist is particularly important for online education. Studies of university learners find that virtual learners can experience higher drop-out rates than those in traditional face-to-face environments.

Some students may require a parent to physically sit with them when engaged in online learning, while others benefit more from periodic parental check-ins. Casual opportunities to verbally share learning outcomes and activities with their family members can also benefit students.

Even nuanced parent involvement, such as conveying a belief that students will succeed, or spending quality time expressing interest and care, can help motivate learners to persevere through challenges.

A child wearing headphones at a laptop.

2. Help students organize the home learning environment

Some students may struggle when tasked to complete their schoolwork online, because home environments are typically less structured than school. A little planning in the management of household spaces for learning, technology resources and routines can go a long way in terms of proactively reducing household stress and supporting students when learning from home.

Creating space for remote learning within the home may involve establishing new family routines. Both students and parents might reflect on previous remote learning experiences to understand what kind of environment and routines allow everyone to be productive while at home.

The whole family can strive to organize the home environment to be as supportive as possible to the needs of online learners. Through fostering family routines that are complimentary to students’ online learning responsibilities, preferences, needs for recreation, physical activity and non-screen time, parents can promote student success.

3. Encourage children and youth’s self-regulation

When engaged in online learning, students’ self-regulation can be a challenge.

Online learners who are still building their self-regulation skills may need additional parental support. For example, some students may benefit from having their learning device set up in a communal area of the home. By being accessible to students—for example, working at the same table or nearby—parents can provide online learners with another level of accountability and support.

For other students, their self-regulation may thrive with just an occasional physical or virtual parental check-in from time to time. Check-ins can also benefit parents too, by providing a glimpse of their online learner’s engagement levels and learning patterns.

4. Maintain home-school communication

With information about school operations and policies changing rapidly, communication between home and school is essential this fall. Thus, engaging in regular and ongoing two-way communication between home and school is another way parents can support online learners.

Parents who stay abreast of happenings in the school community can be an additional source of information for students and can help online learners to understand, prepare and adjust to the expectations of their evolving learning environment. Establishing specific times to read school emails, check social media feeds, review classroom communications or news may help.

Two-way communication is important in supporting hybrid and online education, because teachers may rely on parents when seeking to understand student learning outside of class time and beyond the viewpoint of the screen.

Home and school communications shouldn’t be reserved for only when there is a problem. Establishing regular communication and two-way feedback between students, families and teachers can go a long way to establish the trust and rapport needed to create a learning community, online or otherwise, in which all members feel supported and included.

5. Offer instructional support

Although parents or primary caregivers are not always subject matter experts, they’re likely to be called upon for help with homework or for academic assistance.

Parental instructional support in the form of reviewing assignment instructions with students or encouraging children to review their school materials when stuck can be much appreciated by both struggling learners and their teachers. There is also helping students navigate online applications or troubleshooting technical issues.

Through informal learning opportunities, parents can help students to develop skills and deepen their understandings of concepts explored in class. For example, family conversations and teachable moments between parents and children can help students to make connections between their class work and real world experiences.

By motivating students, encouraging their self-regulation, helping them to organize the home learning environment, maintaining home-school communication and offering instructional support, parent involvement has the potential to positively influence the learning outcomes and success of students both in-class and online this fall.The Conversation

Jennifer Sparks is a PhD candidate in the department of leadership, higher & adult education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

School-age

3 back to school rules to help keep kids healthy

School is back in session, and these key reminders can help keep classrooms safe and germ-free

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School-age

COVID cases are up. Why won't Ontario's government mandate smaller classes?

In a year that every extra person in a room means extra risk, the Conservative government is ignoring our kids' overflowing classrooms.

Well, I just dropped my son off for his first day of grade one, in care of a teacher whose name I only learned yesterday, and whose face I couldn’t really see since she was wearing a mask and shield. There are 17 kids in his class, which is very small but more than 15, the preferred number for maintaining a two-metre distance and minimizing the potential spread of the novel coronavirus. That’s according to a study that the Hospital for Sick Children released yesterday afternoon, based on a simulation involving 190 young people and 15 teachers. Given the average size of an Ontario public school classroom, my son should be one of no more than 12 to 15 students.

This isn’t new news, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his education minister, Stephen Lecce, seem likely to continue ignoring the recommended pandemic-era class sizes while pretending to care. Just look at the appalling video Lecce put out last week, a two-minute clip with the province’s chief medical officer of health, David Williams. First, Lecce gives lip service to “getting the fundamentals right when it comes to public health,” despite his consistent dodging of his responsibility to mandate (and therefore directly fund) classrooms with fewer kids in them.

Williams kicks the idiocy up a notch, declaring the pandemic “a good learning laboratory” for students to understand “infection prevention control.” If they wash their hands and wear masks, he says, they “for sure” won’t take COVID-19 home to their parents or grandparents. Um, what? Setting children up for blame is pretty low, but the government’s current line is that any potential weaknesses in its sloppy, last-minute plan lie in “the community.” That’s what Lecce said on CBC’s Metro Morning last week, while repeatedly refusing to answer a question about whether he was personally confident in the school reopening process.

Kids need to handwash and teachers need to make them; school boards should use mystery money to do more hiring, and that’s the story the Ontario government is sticking with. Nice try. If an outbreak linked to schools causes another lockdown—let alone overwhelming illness or even death—public school parents will ensure that Ford and Lecce carry that as their legacies, through their political careers and beyond.

The threat of a second wave is looming. On Monday, multiple boards delayed online learning by up to a week, as rising COVID-19 numbers led thousands of panicked parents to switch over from in-class instruction. Positive tests in Ontario have doubled over the past three weeks, up to 313 new cases on Monday, and lineups snaked around testing centres over the weekend. Yet it’s still not easy to figure out exactly how much new provincial money is being targeted specifically at pandemic-related educational concerns, such as class sizes, PPE for teachers and ventilation.

On Metro Morning, Lecce kept touting “net new funding,” the meaning of which is clear as mud: it can’t mean the $500 million in province-wide reserve funds boards are now allowed to dip into, which is simply moving scarce coins from one pocket to another. Ford was touting $100 million for new teachers over the weekend, without mentioning that it includes $70 million from the last-minute infusion the federal government handed over in the last week of August.

In any case, it’s not enough: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that $100 million would pay for 1,157 new teachers, while the province has almost 5,000 public schools. In a year that every extra person in a room means extra risk, Ontario students, parents and teachers are all over social media reporting class sizes in the high 20s, even over 30. That isn’t in line with COVID-19 recommendations, and in some cases is actually bigger than usual.

That’s partly because distance learning requires shifting teachers online. The result has been “collapsed” classes inside of public schools, some with extra students, some just unwieldy. One Ottawa mom said on Twitter that her child is in a grade 1/2/3 split. Kingston teacher James Griffith has shown multiple reporters his classroom set up for 32 high school students, with rows and rows of desks mere centimetres apart.

Meanwhile, inequalities are deepening. The Toronto Star reports that private school applications in the city are way up, while low-income families are disproportionately opting for online learning, despite a lack of devices and internet access that predated the pandemic. Many such parents told the Star that they can’t afford to get sick—the low pay, lack of sick days and generally shoddy treatment of “essential workers” during this crisis is shameful, and on all of us.

Part of me suspects the Conservatives left school announcements late on purpose. Parental fury already forced them to fold on sex ed and autism funding, and so the current chaos would seem to serve them much better than months of familial organizing. Bigger classes, online learning and a shift to private education—all things that teachers, unions, students and parents have been fighting against since this government took power. Is COVID-19 a problem for Ford and Lecce, or an opportunity?

Yes, fixing it all would be expensive, but so would re-closing businesses during a wave of hospitalizations while heading back into lockdown, resulting in more parents (mostly moms) dropping out of the workforce. More importantly, every child has a right to a decent education, and both Ontario and Canada were far from living up to that responsibility already.

This is an unprecedented global emergency, and parents, grandparents and every Ontarian trying to cope will never forget how the Ford government faced it. That is, by devaluing our children’s schooling, as well as their health and their futures.

School-age

What to do if your kid comes home with uneaten school lunches

Screaming, "YOU NEED TO EAT YOUR LUNCH!" each morning probably won't solve the issue, so try one of these tips instead for tackling the uneaten lunch problem.

There’s nothing worse for a parent than welcoming your kid home from school, opening up their lunch bag to clean it out, and finding it’s full of uneaten food. Besides that fact that it’s wasteful (of both the food and the time you spent packing it), there’s the worry that your kid isn’t getting enough to eat while they’re away from you. What can be done? Try one of these tips to get through it.

1. Focus on mornings

Make sure to provide a filling, nutritious breakfast, and allot plenty of time for your kid to eat it all.

2. Be patient

It can take some kids a while to get used to eating at school, especially kindergarteners. Give it time.

3. Prep for 3:30 p.m.

Until the issue resolves, be ready to offer a larger-than-normal snack (or even a mini meal) after school.

4. Remind them why it matters

Teach your kid that eating lunch gives them more energy for recess and gym, and more focus for learning.

5. Get them involved

Research shows that when kids help pack their lunch, they are more likely to eat it. (As a bonus, it also teaches them responsibility!)

6. Put on your detective hat

Ask your kid questions about what happens at lunch from a place of curiosity, not judgment. You might learn something that helps. For example, they might say they want to eat, but always run out of time.

7. Stick to their faves

If there’s a meal your kid consistently gobbles up, keep offering it. Don’t stress about providing variety—children generally don’t care about meal repetition like grown-ups do.

8. Do a sample run

Feed your kid their school lunch, packed the same way you would for school, when they’re home and watch what happens. Maybe the container lids are too tight for little fingers to pry open, or they don’t quite understand how zip-top bags work.

9. Chat with the school

Educators and support staff have seen it all and might recommend tricks that helped other kids in the past.

10. Consider the consequences

Is it truly a problem that your kid isn’t eating much lunch? Maybe let it go for now if it isn’t causing any major ripple effects. Remember the old adage: This, too, shall pass.

School-age

This is the best way to reduce coronavirus outbreaks in schools

Because we don’t have much in the way of experience with these measures for COVID-19, predicting what might happen when school resumes requires some number crunching.

As Canadian public schools open up again this fall in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, things will be very different. Each province is bringing in its own rules and guidelines, and many jurisdictions are mandating that older students wear masks all day.

Others are using additional measures to minimize the chance of students contracting COVID-19. The country’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board, is implementing a rotation system for high school students. They will go to school on alternating days, with half of the class on one day and the other half on the next. The aim is to keep each group at 15 students per class. The teachers will be the same and they will repeat the lessons to each group.

What will such rotation do to reduce contagion risk?

Because we don’t have much in the way of experience with these measures for COVID-19, predicting what might happen requires some mathematics. Fortunately, that task has been done in a new study by economists Jeff Ely, Andrea Galeotti and Jakub Steiner. And what they find could give many places guidance as to how to use rotation as a tool to mitigate contagion.

Benefits of rotation

That study found there are potential benefits of having two separate groups of people who regularly interact with one another, but don’t come into contact with anyone outside of their group. If one person becomes infected and the virus spreads, it will be contained to a single group.

The study also showed the effectiveness of different rotation strategies depends on how much and how quickly school officials deal with potential infections. If they wait too long, it’s likely all of the groups will become infected. In that case, rotation isn’t effective in terms of reducing the scale of infections. If schools react quickly, however, one group could be isolated while the other group could keep going.

But there are some interesting other choices too. First, there is the issue of cadence. Is it better to have different groups on alternating days or a longer period — such as alternating weeks? And what about the teachers and staff who come into contact with both groups? Might that be enough to remove the benefits of group separation and rotation entirely?

How to rotate

With COVID-19, we know that many people — especially younger people — tend to be asymptomatic. That means it may be weeks before officials discover an outbreak. Add to that the time needed to have students tested for the virus and it’s plausible that it could take as long as 30 days for a school to notice and react to a potential outbreak in a group.

Now let’s consider a school with 500 students. Even with class rotations, students share common bathrooms and hallways. Without measures like social distancing, COVID-19 has a basic reproduction rate of about 2.2 to 2.5 — that is, every infected person is likely to infect two or so others if there aren’t any interventions going on.

That means that once one person is infected, the number of infected people will double every five days or so (since this is how long it takes for an infected person to start infecting others). Wait 30 days before dealing with the problem (by a lockdown or mass testing) and you would have 16 people infected — that is, two to the power of four, where four is the number of doubling cycles in 30 days if you subtract eight days for weekends.

Now suppose we compare two options:

Option 1 (One half at school and one half at home):

Suppose we took half of the students and asked them to learn remotely, with the other half attending class in person. The isolated students would be safe, but the other students would likely become infected at some point. In this case, we potentially get fewer infections. Specifically, if prevalence is low in the general population, the chances that the “seed” or “Student 0” infection is in the group at school is half what it would be if both groups attend class in person. Thus, the total expected number of infections is 8.5 — ((1 + 16)/2).

Option 2 (One day on and one day off):

Suppose we rotated the students in two groups of alternating days. In this case, chance will determine what happens and that is in our favour. There are 11 days of a month where a group with an infected student exposes others to contagion, so the total number of infections over those two maximum doubling cycles is four (or two to the power of two).

So Option 2 is clearly better. With two separate groups, over the course of a month, students in one infected group are exposed to others half of the time (or 11 school days over a month). If we had one week on and one week off, the same outcome would arise.

What about the teachers?

In any rotation plan, the students spend time at school and then time at home. But the teachers are there all the time. What does that do to these calculations, given that teachers are mixing with both groups?

Such mixing does undermine the potential benefits of rotation — but not by much. If there is an outbreak in one group of 250 students, then the probability of infecting a teacher is not very high. And that means the probability of an outbreak jumping between groups is also low. This is certainly true if the frequency of rotations is high.

Rotation forces regular breaks in exposure, which is valuable when there aren’t other ways of preventing exposure. Rotation also reduces viral spread (that is, the reproduction number) because it forces a reduction in population density in a place. Again, it is precisely because these other interventions can reduce viral spread that they are substitute options to rotation.

Thus, while it is tempting to take a “kitchen sink” approach and take every intervention at your disposal, those interventions have costs. Masks must be procured and worn. COVID-19 tests require infrastructure. Finally, rotations mean kids spend more time at home, which has its own costs above the potential education costs.

Instead, there is a good case to be made that the optimal strategy is to either rely on rotation to reduce exposure risk or to invest in other interventions like mask-wearing and testing. Doing all of them may give fewer benefits relative to cost.The Conversation

Joshua Gans is a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

School-age

Do ‘pandemic pods’ undermine promises of public education?

This shift towards private education reduces the responsibility of governments to adequately fund public schools, and to ensure all children have access to high-quality education.

With schools reopening after COVID-19 closures, concerns about the safety and certainty of public schooling have driven some parents to consider alternatives to sending kids back to brick-and-mortar classrooms.

One option making headlines is the formation of “learning pods” also known as “pandemic pods.” Pandemic pods are small groups of children from different families who learn together outside of traditional school buildings.

While pandemic pods may seem relatively harmless, they are part of a growing trend towards education privatization that undermines public education and democracy. The advent of pandemic pods has been facilitated by micro-communities of organized parents operating in communities across Canada — where public education has been privatizing for decades.

In fact, the number of families choosing private schools or homeschooling has increased and public schools’ reliance on private funds has become normalized. Among other concerns, these shifts point to some parents’ diminishing confidence in governments.

Private interests first

Some pods involve parents providing instruction to their own and others’ children; this is simply a version of homeschooling. In other models, multiple families hire a teacher to deliver the curriculum, or parents pay a for-profit business to provide instruction and space for learning. These arrangements are akin to private schooling.

Another type of pod is one in which families hire someone to help kids as they complete remote instruction provided by a public school board. This model is similar to traditional tutoring to support in-school instruction.

With all of these approaches, either parents or those they delegate to represent their interests participate in the privatization of education by taking on roles that have traditionally been the responsibility of governments.

Privatization in education

Privatization of public education is multifaceted. Unlike in other sectors where governments have sold public assets to private owners, privatization in publicly funded education can mean adopting practices common in the private sector.

Introducing policies to create markets in education is one example. In this arrangement, schools compete for students as parents, the markets’ consumers, choose between a variety of schooling “options.” Choices may include a highly ranked neighbourhood school, private, alternative or charter schools, and specialized arts, athletic or academic programs like French immersion and the International Baccalaureate.

While market approaches in education have gained traction in western societies over the past few decades, they have failed to deliver on the promise that they would improve educational outcomes for all students, especially the most disadvantaged.

Education privatization can also mean increasing the involvement of the private sector in the delivery, funding or governance of public schooling.

Sometimes privatization in education involves creating opportunities for businesses to profit from public education. The involvement of educational technology companies in delivering e-learning is one such example. But the private sector also includes civil society organizations and private citizens, including parents.

Education policies and practices that enable advantaged parents to secure benefits for their own children include fundraising, school fees, international education, public funding of private schools — and pandemic pods.

Private benefits

Researchers who examine the effects of various education privatization policies typically find that they undermine hallmarks of public education. For example, policies that enable school choice — such as charter schools, public funding of private schools, open enrolment and specialized programs — undermine the promise of equal access to education.

Research shows that not all students and families can participate in school choice. A study in Vancouver, for example, shows that parents’ ability to choose schools depends on their income and, relatedly, where they live. A study in Toronto found that white, affluent students are over-represented in specialized arts programs and secondary schools, while researchers found that Vancouver’s Indigenous students are less likely to attend specialized secondary school programs than their non-Indigenous peers.

Public education is supposed to privilege collective benefits of education over private ones. Policies that position families and students as consumers and enable them to select and pay for better resources and opportunities in public schools turn this commitment on its head: public education is constructed primarily as a private — rather than a collective — good.

Crisis and change

While we don’t yet know if the pods will outlast the pandemic, crises are known to facilitate education privatization. Researchers Antoni Verger, Clara Fontdevilla and Adrián Zancajo at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona explain that this happens because crises provide opportunities to test new ideas. Also, they note that the sense of urgency experienced following a catastrophe means that transparent and democratic debates are less likely to happen; consequently, controversial policies are introduced more easily. And changes implemented immediately following crises may endure.

The expansion of charter schools in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina is a case in point. The urgent need to reopen schools meant city residents were willing to accept policies they’d previously resisted. Local school districts invited philanthropists and foundations to rebuild schools in the city and operate them as charter schools. Charter schools are typically governed by a corporate body (a charter board) rather than a democratically elected school board.

Charter school opponents in New Orleans found it hard to organize to contest the reforms since many of them had been displaced by the storm. Today, every publicly funded school in New Orleans is a charter school.

Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney introduced legislation to increase the number of charter schools in the province in May, after schools closed due to the pandemic.

Reproducing social inequalities

School choice and many other education privatization policies call on parents to assume a greater responsibility for their children’s schooling and success. The turn to pandemic pods and fundraising for personal protective equipment and other COVID-related safety items suggest some parents are now accepting responsibility for ensuring their kids’ learning environments are safe.

The shift towards private funding of education reduces the responsibility of governments to adequately fund schools and to ensure all children have access to high-quality education programming.

Education privatization undermines democratic commitments to equity, equality and inclusion by creating and reproducing social inequalities.The Conversation

Sue Winton is an associate professor in the faculty of education at York University, Canada.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

School-age

9 answers to parents' questions about homework

Whether your kid will learn in person or from home this school year, they’ll inevitably have homework. But how much is too much? Should you help your kids with it? What happens if they can’t get it done? Here are answers to your most pressing homework queries.

Raise your hand if supporting your kids over four months of distance learning earlier this year showed you sides of them you’d never seen before. “One positive thing a lot of parents told me is they now know much more about their kids—their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their attention span and perseverance,” says Lisa Kaul, senior vice-president at Kumon Canada, an educational enrichment company with centres across the country. These insights are helpful, but even after playing teacher for a few months, parents still have a lot of questions about how to best support their kids’ at-home learning.

This school year could look different, depending on where you live and your personal decisions. But whether your child spends every day in class or is distance learning (part time or full time), they’ll inevitably have some work to do at home, be it traditional homework or projects assigned after Zoom school. Here are some answers to your biggest homework questions. Parents, take notes.

Q:How much homework should kids be doing?

A: Homework guidelines vary across the country and between school boards. The Toronto District School Board, for one, recommends homework for elementary students after a day spent in class but doesn’t prescribe a set amount of time. Other boards are more specific. The Calgary Catholic School District, for example, recommends occasional five- to 10-minute blocks of homework for kids in kindergarten to grade three, and a maximum of 30 minutes per night for students in grades four to six. That said, the amount of homework assigned depends on the teacher more than the school board, says Kaul. And the amount of time it takes depends on your kid.

The types of assignments given also varies by grade level. In general, kids in kindergarten and grade one tend to get reading assignments (to do with their parents), and by grade four or five, it could be book reports or group presentations that require at-home internet research.

Q: My kid begs for help with their homework. Should I comply?

A: “In elementary school, parental support should be more about setting students up to do their work successfully rather than actually helping them do the work itself,” says Kaul. Put otherwise: Parents will need to organize their kid’s homework, at least to some degree, but doesn’t mean you have to sit with them the whole time or correct their work. In fact, Amal Boultif, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Ottawa, says to leave the corrections to their teacher so they get a sense of how your kid is really doing. It means you need to make sure your kid is organized with their assignment, ensure they’ve read it clearly and know what to do. By around grade two, in most cases, you should be able to do this and then walk away for 10 or 15 minutes while they work, checking in from time to time to see if they’re still on track. If they have a question that you aren’t sure about it, simply say, “I don’t know. Let’s make sure you ask your teacher tomorrow.” If you try to figure it out or complete the question like you remember from your own schooling, it might create more confusion, since your method could be different than the teacher’s.

Learning responsibility and time management are as important as mastering geography and math. Start giving them the tools early on by empowering them to call some of the shots. Even a first grader can decide whether they work before or after dinner or which book they want to look at for reading time.

Q: If my kid is procrastinating, should I force it or let them deal with the consequences?

A: Little kids will definitely need support, encouragement and frequent reminders to get their work done. This is not a failing on their part. It’s really not until middle school that kids should be taking over their homework entirely, and you shouldn’t feel the need to ensure that each assignment is done (although a quick reminder doesn’t hurt). “The goal is to gradually release the responsibility of learning to our kids,” says Boultif.

If you are struggling to support your kid with their school work at home—due to a hectic work schedule, the demands of your other kids or for any other reason—your family might benefit from the help of a tutor (if that’s an option for you). “Tutoring isn’t just for helping kids who are falling behind,” says Kaul. Some parents hire a tutor to help tackle projects and prioritize assignments to give their kids extra support.

Q: My kid insists on doing homework in the living room with their noisy siblings around. Is this a bad idea?

A: It depends on your child. For some, having a quiet, dedicated spot where they always go to work can help encourage good study habits. But other kids are as productive on the sofa or in the kitchen, and they may not feel comfortable being alone in their room, says Boultif. You don’t need to be rigid here. There’s nothing wrong with having your kid work at the kitchen counter while you make dinner so you can keep an eye on them while cooking and maybe watch younger siblings, too. The main thing is that they are relaxed and aren’t struggling to concentrate on the task at hand.

Q: My kid’s teacher says she doesn’t believe in homework. What’s up with that?

A: Some teachers don’t, and kids are usually pretty game to go along with it (unsurprisingly!). Truthfully, there’s scant research to prove homework is essential to a kid’s overall academic success. But as kids head into grades three and four, there could be a long-term benefit to helping them create a predictable homework routine, since the workload will increase dramatically in the higher grades, says Kaul, and it’s good to get kids used to the idea. “At Kumon, we advocate daily homework, or the idea of doing something daily, to establish the expectation and routine,” she says. So if assignments are really sporadic and you’re concerned, you could consider implementing your own homework schedule.

Q: What if my kid and I decide there’s just too much?

A: If your kid can’t get it all done, prioritize reading. “Literacy is the essential skill,” says Boultif. “First kids read to understand, then they read to learn math, science and all other subjects, so it’s really the most important in the elementary grades,” she says. You can help them establish a strong foundation by always reading to them at bedtime, encouraging them to read to you, and also by asking them questions about the materials they’re reading, to gauge comprehension.

Q: Can we opt out of homework?

A: Consider your motivation. Are you thinking of scrapping it because of the demands of a hectic home life? Because you don’t personally think it’s worthwhile? Because your kid is struggling with the workload or the work itself? If your student is consistently complaining about the work, start by having a straight talk with your teacher. Maybe the difficulty level needs to be adjusted for your kid’s pace of learning or they simply can’t handle the load right now. Either way, you and the teacher can likely arrive at a compromise, like swapping math worksheets for increased reading time at home, for example.

Q: Do little kids really need a laptop or a tablet for homework?

A: When COVID-19 first arrived, many parents had to take stock of their child’s access to, and relationship with, technology. Clearly, to participate in a live video class from home, they need to be online with a computer or an iPad (along with an internet connection). In the younger grades, parents often have control over how much learning and homework happens online. Many assignments can be done with a pencil and paper, and you can often opt in, or out, of online math games or reading apps, which is helpful if you have two or three kids sharing a computer or tablet for school work.

Q: My kid complains about homework. Every. Single. Day. Will this ever end?

A: Kids moaning and groaning about school work is a tale as old as time. How you react is the key. “This idea that homework is something that has to be endured is such a missed opportunity,” says Kaul. “Making it positive will help them later on—and us, as parents, when we don’t have to go to battle about homework every night.”