Opinion: School days are coming. The variant is already here

Indecision looms as new school year approaches

I’ll tell you up front: this column has an ending, not a conclusion.

As I sit here today, an unworthy survivor of my own stupid decisions, I find myself thinking about the chances we take and the luck we push, and how different it feels when those chances and that luck rests with our children. As I sit here today, I’m thinking about three words: Back to school.

When I was a kid those three words cast a shadow over the last weeks of summer vacation. Now, as a parent, they usually bring a lightness to my being. But this year, as a parent of a child under the age of 12, I can’t tell you what those words mean for me and my family. I can’t even tell you for certain if I’ll be sending my kid to class or keeping him home.


He’s looking forward to school. He’s happy to go and content to wear a mask.

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But then there’s that variant.

I worry about the Delta variant and, as much as it kills me to write this, I worry about my neighbours. Not all of them, not most of them, but enough.

Discussing the pandemic on CBC, Dr. Peter Lin likened the transmissibility of the Delta variant to a single cigarette that bellows out 1,000 times more smoke than a typical cancer stick. He recommended social distancing, vaccines and masks.

But I’ve seen crowds of maskless parents huddled together at morning drop-off and pick-up. At first I worried the parents didn’t realize the example they were setting. Now I’m worried they knew – they just weren’t interested in setting the example I’d hoped for. Imagine them with a thousand cigarettes apiece.

What do these people tell their children? 

In a particularly cathartic Vancouver Sun column, Pete McMartin wrote: “I’m done with conspiracies and those who believe in them.”

I’d like to be done with them myself, but I don’t think I am. At the very least, they’re not done with me. At last check, about 17 percent of the vaccine-eligible population – some 700,000 people – hasn’t had their first dose yet. That’s more than the number of British Columbians who voted B.C. Liberal in the last provincial election. 

And whether they’re loudly likening masks to tyranny or gently suggesting I consider what Joe Rogan has to say on the issue, it almost doesn’t matter. They’re all around us and changing their hearts and minds will be a slow process. The Delta variant, on the other hand, is as quick as chicken pox.   

So how do we handle back to school?

Home-schooling is an option, but not an appealing one. It’s not that it’s expensive and time-consuming. It’s not even that I would live in fear of spitballs and follow-up questions on subjects I’ve happily forgotten. It’s the idea that I’d be slicing away at the terrain of childhood. 

Every day, kids are supposed to go off and see things you didn’t exactly prepare them for. They have little adventures and bring home big stories. Sometimes they have problems you never envisioned but sometimes they also find solutions you never imagined. Taking that away feels like an awful intrusion, like paving over a park.

But then there’s that variant.

There’s mental health concerns with remote learning, and not just for children. A CDC report suggested remote learning may have a negative effect on the child’s learning as well as on the mental and emotional well-being of parents and children.

But then . . .

I know we’re a long way from Florida (geographically and, I hope, otherwise) but their school year opened with 1,805 COVID-19 cases in a single county.

I guess the question is: how different are we? In Florida, about 2-of-4 people are fully vaccinated. In B.C., it’s 3-of-4. Is that different enough? Many seem to feel it’s not. At press time, more than 8,700 people had signed an online petition asking for stronger COVID-19 safety measures for B.C. students.

Back-to-school feels like getting ready for a long trip on a bad highway. Do we stay or go?

I’d like to conclude by telling you what I plan to do and, indirectly, what you ought to do, but I really don’t know. If you’re a teacher, a parent or a medical professional who wants to enlighten me, or if you only want to commiserate, please drop me a line.

And for now at least, that’s the end.


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