Parents have not only been processing the demands of the lockdown personally but assessing how it has been affecting their family – and more specifically, their children. The costs have been real in a multitude of ways throughout our society. And there is a very specific concern about the effects of the drawn-out lockdown on children that we need to address.
"According to pediatric disease specialist Dr. Ari Joffe, children living through the COVID-19 lockdowns are often facing family financial stress, family violence, loneliness, hunger, inactivity, and disrupted educational opportunities. This will result in "permanent profound impacts on their future quality of life, educational achievement, earning potential, lifespan, and health care utilization.""[i]
No one is living a 'normal' life – including home educators. Although we all are generally used to being together more than most families, and have likely coped better because of it, my son quipped that all the worry about home educated students not getting socialized has now become a government enforced mandate. A lack of socialization is hardly something that any home educating parent ever intends to be true, and in fact, it has been proven to be false for decades, even though the question is often still something we get asked. Studies have shown that the civic participation of adults that were home educated are higher than the comparable population.[ii] These activities do not suddenly start after they graduate, but are instilled in our children as they are brought up, covering participation areas that include political, sports, cultural, religious and community, service and more.
The lockdown mandates have been very stressful for some home educating families from the beginning due to various circumstances, but concern has been growing as the health orders have been extended from the initial two-week request. A parent's patience and desire to be a good citizen has been challenged by the isolation effects they are seeing in their children. AHEA parents are used to being able to make wise decisions about the welfare of their children. Having their ability to help them thrive curtailed, and in a way that lacked the civic process we are proud to regularly participate in, has been chaffing. Always an active population, this has now resulted in calls to their MLA's and various government offices in increasing numbers.
AHEA has been in communication with the Education Department and the Education Minister's office to highlight the concerns we have for our home education community's children. Our efforts have focused on a realistic, specific and healthy solution to this problem of isolation. Home education is a different model than the public-school model, and we require clear direction that applies to us. Interestingly, we are joined in this grey zone by another group that is being forced to experience this – public school distance learners. Therefore, we feel that there should be language that allows for different supportive learning situations. This includes more than 'a co-op,' as the current exceptions for those going to the school buildings or in school co-ops are not unquestioningly applicable to other scenarios.
AHEA has also stated that we would be unwilling to have home education families required to agree to further regulations or oversight for their children to have the freedom to interact with other children. Some families have been concerned that this is the cost that may be required to regain their ability to interact. AHEA believes in the individual, God-given responsibility of parents to do what is in the best interests of our children, and appreciate our Section 2 Charter Rights to our freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Home education children are used to going to extra-curricular activities, music lessons, sports, clubs, and things as simple as the playground. Children of all ages need to interact, not only those in some models on a school playground.
Home education has received no covid related supports yet that AHEA is aware of. While we have been patiently waiting are response on our outstanding request for support due to the unprecedented growth, we feel that this reasonable request to address our children's social interactions is critical to see movement on shortly. We have further asked that the government speak in terms of a number of families, not a specific number of people, to accommodate different family sizes. Each family is unique and we support a range from those with a single child to those with larger families. We note that the government's guidelines in the school re-entry documents define a cohort as, "A COVID-19 cohort, also referred to as a bubble, circle, or safe squad, is a small group whose members are always the same people, and who do not always keep two meters apart. Cohorts in schools will generally be the size of one class."[iii] We need similar flexibility for our children so we can fulfill education plans made in the fall.
AHEA has been informed that the Minister and her staff at the Alberta Education department are currently working out the details to address this. They have said that they have received polite and respectful, yet firm and persistent, calls from parents. You are making a difference by reaching out to them, as well as calling your MLA's to lay the groundwork of support that is needed to ensure this is actionable.
AHEA is determined and expectant, and will be informed of a decision in short order. We are all working together to address the issue, and where there is a will there is a way. Stay tuned for the next turn in what has become our 'corporate life story,' and please continue to push for changes that will let us get back to our individual ones. It was ever so much more interesting when there was not a common narrator!