Rachel Marmer is the founder of Learning Pods Canada.
A new school year is under way across Canada, and it already looks and feels very different from any other in recent history.
Canadians have experienced major shifts in their lives over the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many ways, children have suffered immensely. They have been abruptly pulled away from their friends, extended family, teachers and routines for the past six months. They have missed parties, graduations and many other milestones. Now parents are faced with making tough decisions about their children’s education.
Many students are not in class. Some will be taught remotely by teachers from their school board, while others have opted out of their local school system in favour of home-schooling.
There is no right or wrong decision – just families trying to do their best. There are many who cannot risk sending their children into school, such as those with immunocompromised children, or with immunocompromised family members at home. Other families are concerned about the impact on their children’s mental health and well-being as a result of the physically distanced environment in today’s schools.
All families deserve a safe learning option at home that does not leave children isolated or on a device all day. Learning pods are a workable solution because they provide children with education and socialization in a safe framework. So why haven’t the Ontario government and Ministry of Education recognized this option as legitimate and, for many, necessary?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments of all levels have imposed temporary measures of all kinds for our safety. Those measures should be extended to education.
One way to achieve this is by cutting the red tape around private-school legislation. Doing this would create a viable education solution for families that want security and consistency in their child’s school year. Under the current education and child-care models available, there are too many hurdles for parents to pool funds to hire an educator to teach children in their homes, or in some cases, rented spaces.
In Ontario, for example, a learning pod can be classified in a number of ways, depending on how it is structured: It can be an unlicensed home daycare, a nanny-share agreement, a home-school co-op or a registered private school. A pod organizer can find themselves trying to navigate the Child Care and Early Years Act, the Employment Standards Act and the Private Schools Policy and Procedures Manual. That situation makes it easy to fall afoul of the law. Provincial governments can help alleviate this by creating emergency legislation that enables easier formation of pods.
Parents deserve peace of mind when setting up their child’s learning accommodations for the year, and should not have to fear facing hefty fines. Right now, anyone who wants to set up a learning pod must register as a private school if the pod has more than five students. The private-school guidelines are cumbersome and burdensome for parents.
Governments should not be making life more difficult for families during an already difficult time. Our leaders need to be acting in the best interests of our children. If they don’t take this opportunity to recognize learning pods as a viable education solution, many families and children will suffer – mentally, emotionally and academically.
Sometimes we don’t need the government to throw money at a problem. Sometimes, our leaders have the opportunity to make a big change that costs little. In this case, cutting the red tape costs nothing, and provides the peace of mind parents and children need now. I hope our leaders will take heed.
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