OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s top doctor is adding her voice to the calls for students to be in class five days a week starting in September.

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board held a special meeting to discuss the options for starting school in the fall during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Zoom meeting gave parents, guardians, staff and others the chance to provide feedback on the learn at home experience this spring and plans for the new school year.

“What Ottawa Public Health has taken a position on is to recommend that we start school in September with five days of in-person school,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health.

“This would balance the risk of COVID infection, putting other infection prevention controls in place, with the observed harms to children and youth and families that we’re seeing.”

Dr. Etches said Ottawa Public Health would “seek to influence” the Ontario Government’s requirements for the new school year.

The medical officer of health says public health, school boards and the Ontario Government must do their part to make sure the COVID-19 virus doesn’t enter schools, and make sure there is a “rapid response capacity” across the province so public health can respond to any cases of COVID-19 in the schools.

The Ministry of Education has asked school boards to prepare plans according to the following three scenarios: a normal school day routine with enhanced health protocols, a modified school week with fewer students per class and alternating schedules, or fulltime at-home learning. OCDSB has proposed a modified school week: two days in the classroom and three days learning from home.

Many parents expressed their concern with the model and called it ‘unsustainable.’

Speaking at the meeting, Lee Patriquin, a mother, said a “lack of thought” went into the hybrid learning approach.

At-home learning has also been a struggle for Holly Grenier and her son.

“It didn’t work for us. It only added another layer of stress and fueled my son’s struggles with isolation and loneliness,” she said.

“It was close to useless,” Miriam Padolsky said. “My children learned only a small fraction of what they would have learned if they were in school.”

“We all found the experience very stressful and difficult,” she said.

Teachers have been working hard, but the model is flawed, Padolsky added.

Ruth Thompson wants school to resume normally in the fall, but said if that’s not possible she’d prefer class to resume on a week-on and week-off basis for some consistency throughout the week.

“It’s the best of a bad case scenario” she said.

“Our kids deserve predictability” said Sarah Estabrooks.

Gillian Carter said “a part-time model would be counterproductive to contain the spread.”

The discussion went on for hours.

Director of Education, Camillie Williams-Taylor, said it’s still not clear “which return mode will be prescribed” and it likely won’t be decided until the beginning of August.

The board has a shared goal to “resume regular school as a quickly as possible,” and as safely as possible, Williams-Taylor said.

The Board is also considering adjusting the School Year Calendar, by possibly moving PA days to the start of the school year.