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'It feels a little bit like a mad world out there': Some parents call for reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools

York Community for Public Education, teachers union among those urging York Region schools to provide more information similar to TDSB
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Nearly three weeks after mask mandates ended, York Community for Public Education co-chair Sandra Huh said local parents are feeling frustrated.

Most COVID-19 measures are no longer in place at schools or elsewhere and tracking has become more limited. But the advocacy group chair said increased absenteeism has become noticeable, and her 10-year-old son has expressed fear.

“Parents are really struggling. They’re trying to push through as best they can,” she said. “We’re tired. We need help so that we can feel more comfortable sending our kids to school.

“It feels a little bit like a mad world out there,” she added. 

COVID-19 cases are rising in York Region and across the province based on wastewater signals. While the Toronto District School Board began school-wide notification of known COVID-19 cases this week, York Region school boards have not taken that step.

Schools are still required to report classroom closures and absenteeism rates daily, but the rates could be for reasons other than COVID-19. In Newmarket, schools range from a 2.5 per cent absentee rate (St. Paul Catholic Elementary School) to a 19.1 per cent rate (Meadowbrook Public School) as of April 8.

Some parents have taken to efforts to track cases on their own. But Huh said she would like parents to get more details from schools about cases to help in decision-making. 

“It gives at least a little bit of a picture for parents to understand whether or not they are comfortable with sending their kids to school,” she said. “They need to make some decisions because COVID isn’t necessarily gone.”

York Region District School Board's website currently shows no COVID-19 classroom or school closures. When asked about its stance on implementing a reporting change like TDSB’s, the board did not speak to that policy directly but said, “We remain committed to being transparent with our families."

"We know families have many questions about the public reporting of school cases,” the board said. “We continue to liaise with York Region Public Health and take their advice on disclosures requirements and health and safety protocols related to COVID-19.”

Medical officer health Dr. Barry Pakes acknowledged some doctors have said we are in a sixth wave but said April 4 that it is "too soon to tell whether it's a wave or more of a gentle ripple” based on whether local hospitalizations become impacted. But he and public health have continued to advise masking in many settings and encourage booster COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation York Region president Muna Kadri said other boards must do as TDSB has regarding reporting.

“Boards such as TDSB are fighting for the health and safety of our communities by reporting cases,” she said, adding that she feels the government wants citizens to forget that “COVID is rampant.”

York Catholic District School Board previously maintained a similar policy as TDSB to notify parents about cases but said it would not be reinstating it.

"This is in keeping with guidance received from York Region Public Health. Given the multiple protective strategies in place, contacts who are only exposed at school or child care are not generally considered close contacts requiring isolation," the board said. 

Huh said the potential impact of long COVID still leads to concern as a parent, even with her child fully vaccinated.

She said she would like to see mask mandates put back into place.

“I feel for everybody. I don’t really want to be masking either,” she said. “But if it’s going to keep me and my family safe, as well as my community, why wouldn’t I do that?”