I’m defending parental rights and part of my brain just exploded

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a parent of four free-thinking individuals who also happen to be my children. I respect their thoughts and opinions even when I think they’re being a-holes. I encourage them to question authority – even my own – because I have a counter-argument for almost every argument they can make; and if I don’t, then perhaps they’re right and they win… this time.

I have been a stable and unwavering support for kids as thinking beings who have their own wants, desires and needs.

Unless they’re harming themselves or others: I’m on their side.

But here’s the kicker: I think parental rights advocates are ridiculous because I don’t believe parental rights – in most reasonable, utterly Canadian situations – have ever been under attack.

Which is why I picked up the pen – so to speak – today.

On Friday, March 13, I officially took my kids out of a rural Alberta school based solely on coronavirus fears.

As a reporter and general current affairs addict, I have been watching the coronavirus spread since just before Christmas.

On Friday, March 6, it was announced that COVID-19 had arrived in Alberta – the Calgary health zone – my health zone (it actually arrived around the 3rd if our DM’s can be trusted).

Anyhow, that was 38 cases ago.

I live in a bedroom community outside of Calgary and the majority of people in my community work in Calgary. My community is not isolated from what happens outside of the municipal boundaries. Few are, granted, but mine, and others like mine, especially.

Albertans have been wondering when the schools will close here.

Ontario closed public schools on Thursday. Manitoba and New Brunswick announced they would close public schools on Friday – yesterday.

The whole of Atlantic Canada – for perspective – has ONE presumptive case.

Watching Saturday’s live update from the most popular person in Alberta today – Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health – I saw comment after comment on the feed asking if Alberta’s schools will be closed.

I was thinking the same thing on March 12.

You see, I am in the sandwich generation. For reasons way beyond the scope of this post, my 88 year old grandmother and 65 year old mother moved in with my family last year (OMG it’s been a year at the end of this month…deep breath… another time).

Where was I…. right – they live with us.

So, both of them have underlying conditions which could exacerbate problems with a COVID-19 infection and I was stressing. No offence to public health but aside from New Brunswick and Manitoba, by the time they recommend closing the schools, it will already be spreading in the community.

Understand – as I do – MOST people will have mild cases. MOST people will recover.

Some people, in elevated age ranges with underlying conditions, won’t.

I talked to all of my kids about taking them out of school on Thursday night.

My 10 year old said I was the best mom ever. 13 was quite stoked until he asked to go to the gym later and I explained a quarantine was not simply about missing school – and that’s the short – and unemotional – version.

16 wasn’t thrilled but understood.

17 is turning 18 in two weeks and has been quite the keener when it comes to school – she takes her grades seriously and doesn’t miss classes. She’s also graduating this year.

“I’ll move out,” she said.

And she sorta-kinda did because I can’t very well host a self-isolation while one household member isn’t playing along. (P.S. she’s just staying with a friend and totally isn’t moving out but her needs matter too – and we worked it out so that we can all do what we think is best.)

I called the school on Friday morning and explained my situation and my decision.

They were understanding and helpful.

The older ones will be required to keep up with assignments via email, the youngest has to read and write every day, and the principal suggested I sign up for some online resources for math and science. I left both conversations feeling better about my decision and minimizing the impact on my kids.

Today, however, as the UCP-appointed government employees and elected officials attempt to justify their decision to keep schools open, I suddenly feel as if this government – THIS government – is saying “trust us – we know what is best for you and your family” when I feel they should be saying “this is our qualified opinion, based on scientific evidence, but you know what is best for you and your family and we trust you to make that decision yourself”.

To any parent wondering “when will they close the schools? I don’t feel comfortable sending my kids (FOR WHATEVER REASON YOU CHOOSE),” the choice is YOURS.

I work from home. I was able to make this decision after a completely stressful day and some conversation with my kids.

I do not see myself as a champion of parental rights – or anything of the sort – but for some reason I feel that parents need to have someone reminding them that if they wish to make this decision, they can – without the government’s “blessing” – if it’s the right thing for your family.

This post is 100 per cent anecdotal and opinion – and yet factual – all at the same time.

Deirdre is a reporter based in Southern Alberta.