Ontario's back to school plans could be complicated by a new poll that suggests more than ten per cent of parents would likely keep their child home this September over COVID-19 fears.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) during the final week in June, when Ontario schools were still developing plans for September and before portions of the province were authorized to move into Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan.
While the poll found that 53 per cent of parents with children in the public school system are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with returning to school in September, 43 per cent said they were uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable with the idea.
Nanos Research also found 12 per cent of parents will likely keep their children at home in the fall, while 32 per cent are considering the idea.
The poll also found that parents living in northern and southwestern Ontario are much more comfortable with the idea of students returning to school in September, than parents living in urban centres. In Toronto, for example, just 44 per cent of parents said they were comfortable for students, staff and education workers returning to school.
OPSBA President Cathy Abraham said while the poll is a snapshot at the end of June, it gives educators and school boards a better picture of parents' state of mind about their children mingling together during what could be the second wave of the pandemic.
"It really gives us solid evidence that these are the things that parents and our communities are worried about, are thinking about and are talking about," Abraham told CTV News Toronto.
"It's valuable information. It gives us something that we can go to the ministry [of education] and say we need to talk."
The results could also throw a wrench in the province's back to school plans, since Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have both expressed a desire to see students returning to school five days a week with a maximum class size of 15.
Lecce has asked school boards to consider three options for the fall, including a full-day in class model, a learn-from-home option and a hybrid of the two.
If students are expected to learn from home, the OPSBA poll found that more than 90 per cent of parents say it’s important for elementary school students to have "real-time, live interaction with their teacher and other students."
For in-school learning, which Ford has said is the preferred option, the poll found parents are "nearly twice as likely to agree" that spending on education is more important than eliminating the deficit.
Respondents to the poll identified cleaning supplies, student transportation, creative learning environments, support for students, and more online learning professional development for teachers as priorities for education spending.
The Nanos poll was a representative online survey of 2,019 Ontarians, conducted between June 23 to June 28 and was weighted by age and gender.