'It's a time of uncertainty': Nervousness and excitement as B.C. kids head back to school
VANCOUVER -- There was a sense of nervous excitement for many families Thursday, as kids across the province returned to school for the first time in months.
“Little bit nervous.... I’ve been thinking about it all week, but we have no choice,” Surrey parent Barbara Olsen Told CTV News Thursday as she dropped off her son for his Grade 3 orientation at Lena Shaw Elementary School.
While some students were briefly back in class during a limited return in June, for most families, Thursday’s return is their first time back in school for in-person since school let out before Spring Break.
Miranda Hausner’s said she had mixed emotions about her daughter Nyree heading into Grade 1 during the pandemic.
“This is a step outside everybody’s comfort zone, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Only time will tell,” she said.
North Vancouver mom Katherine Young expressed similar emotions about sending her daughter Adeline in to Grade 3.
“I think it’s hard to mix the two feelings,” Young explained. “You’re nervous about the world and the way it is right now, and how your kids are going to fit into that. But you’re excited too about the new school year, and that they do get a chance to go back at least.”
Most students across B.C. will be spending the next two days adjusting to the new normal at their schools. That includes getting their cohort groups, and even getting comfortable with how to move through hallways with new directional markings.
In Surrey, students are attending the orientation for just one hour on Thursday and one hour on Friday before resuming class work on Monday.
In North Vancouver, Lynn Valley Elementary School principal Chanin Smyth says staff have been busy behind the scenes for weeks trying to make sure schools were ready and safe.
“It was a great start to the day, “ Smyth told CTV News Thursday morning. Smyth’s students will have their first full day on Friday.
“We have done so much preparation and we feel really ready. But if things come up that we need to adjust we are certainly open and willIng to do that as needed. It’s a time of uncertainty of course and everyone is coming with a different set of emotions and feelings.”
Surrey School District superintendent Jordan Tinney addressed some of the emotions being felt by parents during an interview on CTV Morning Live.
“It’s just the uncertainty. We are used to being a certain place for the community and for the public, but right now there are still just a lot of things people are unsure of,” he said.
His district is offering a blend of online and in-class learning, which some parents have been keen on. About 26 per cent of kids at Lena Shaw will be starting their school year in the blended model.
The return to class has been controversial, with the B.C. government’s plan on everything from masks to cohort groups criticized by parents and the B.C. Teachers Federation as COVID-19 case numbers have continued to add up.
In August the province updated its mandate around the use of masks in school, making them mandatory for middle school and high school students and staff, but only in certain situations.
Many of the elementary school children CTV News spoke with were also wearing masks as they started their first day.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming was in Victoria Thursday and stressed that schools are doing everything they can to keep kids safe.
“I think what we have seen in some places in B.C. where kids have already been back to school this week is that it’s been very, very valuable to have the orientation and have people gain confidence knowing there’s been a lot of thoughtful steps that have been implemented to keep everybody safe and have a strong start to the school year,” he told reporters.
Fleming had previously said that districts were expecting 85 to 90 per cent of students to attend school in-person. But many parents and students had expressed frustration, saying they wanted more options for remote learning.
Despite B.C.'s rising cases of COVID-19, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that B.C. would not consider delaying the start of the school year because of the consequences of losing in-class instruction.
"If we do not put our priority as a community on getting children back into the school setting and getting their education, their learning, their social interactions back together, we will have long-term, generational downsides to that," she said.
The province is receiving $242 million from Ottawa and allocating almost half to support the reopening of schools.
Fleming has said school districts would have flexibility on how to spend the money as options for enhanced safety measures and remote learning will be different depending on the community. Improved ventilation in school buildings, hiring additional teachers to support remote learning, buying more protective equipment and hiring more custodial staff were considered to be some of the priority areas, Fleming said.
With files from the Canadian Press