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Trudeau unsure about sending his kids to school, as poll suggests he's not alone


OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says he remains on the fence about sending his three kids back to school this fall, and a new survey suggests he is not alone as many parents are nervous about the resumption of classes while COVID-19 remains a threat.

The prime minister shared his uncertainty during a news conference on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, only weeks before classes in Ontario and much of the rest of the country are set to resume after being suspended in the spring due to the pandemic.

"Like so many parents, that's something we are in very active discussions on," Trudeau said outside the House of Commons, where he announced that Parliament was being prorogued after a small cabinet shuffle.

"We are looking at what the schools' plans are, we're looking at class sizes, we're looking at how the kids are feeling about wearing masks. All my friends as parents are asking these same questions."

A new survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggested the majority of parents plan to send their kids to school, but that most would want classes cancelled if there is a new COVID-19 outbreak in their community.

Those results suggested many parents are torn, with 66 per cent of respondents with children saying they were worried about children returning to school but 63 per cent saying they planned to send their kids anyway.

Yet 69 per cent also felt all classes should be suspended and learning shifted back to home if there is a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in their community, with 19 per cent saying classes should continue and 12 per cent unsure either way.

The online survey of 1,510 Canadians over age 18, including 385 parents with school-aged children in their households, took place Aug. 14-16. An internet poll cannot be given a margin of error because it is not a random sample.

The results underscore the nervousness and sensitivities around the planned reopening of school, says Leger president Jean-Marc Leger, with many parents supporting the return of classes but ready to shut it down again at the drop of a hat.

"People are nervous," he said. "It's a very sensitive question."

For his part, Trudeau said the federal government is making infrastructure money available for provinces to help retrofit schools and other public buildings to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. But he also acknowledged the concern many parents are feeling.

"I know that lots of parents are going to be watching carefully what their local school boards' plans are," he said. "There is a lot of reflection in a lot of households, including mine, as to what's going to happen when September rolls around."

The Leger survey also found strong support among respondents with children for requiring certain protections to be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at schools, including 76 per cent who said students should have to wear masks.

The result was not broken down by whether masks should be required for only high school students or students in both high school and elementary. Some provinces such as Ontario are requiring masks for students in certain grades but not others.

Eighty-four per cent of respondents with kids said teachers and school staff should be required to wear masks while 75 per cent supported temperature checks for children and 71 per cent wanted screening questionnaires.

"People are saying: 'OK, we agree. We support the government's initiative. But at the same time, you should ensure that the rules are respected at school,'" said Leger.

Parents were more divided over what to do if a student or teacher in their kid's class tested positive for COVID-19.

While 24 per cent reported they would keep their kids home from school indefinitely, 35 per cent said they would keep them home for at least 14 days while 33 per cent indicated they would follow the advice of their school on next steps.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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