After a limited restart to the school year that brought students back to their schools Thursday and Friday, no COVID-19 outbreaks have been declared in B.C. schools, but the first full day of classes for kindergarten-Grade 12 students has yet to come.
That day arrives Monday when schools for the first time since the pandemic was declared and schools were closed to students on March 17.
Some teachers have concerns about the provincial health office’s return-to-school guidelines, specifically about the density of classrooms and the fact neither students nor teachers are required to wear face masks in the classrooms. Mask use is mandated for students and staff in areas where physical distancing is not possible, such as hallways or entranceways.
“The classrooms are packed,” said Joanne Hapke, president of the Prince George District Teachers Association. “If the provincial health office said classroom densities have to be 50 per cent, that would give us some breathing room.
“Teachers have done their best to take out items from their classroom that they’ve had for years, the things that make classrooms more homey – the soft-touch items. They’ve taken out pillows, extra seating, area carpets, because we recognize they don’t meet health and safety guidelines so we’re doing that to support a safe return to classrooms for students.”
Schools reopened for 90-minute sessions on Thursday for two cohorts of students and a third cohort had its first day of classes Friday morning. Monday will be the first day all students will be in schools for in-class learning for the first time since the pandemic lockdown took effect in March. A small percentage of students returned for the final month of the school year in June for part-time in-school instruction.
Parents still have the option of gradual entry and keeping their kids out of school until they are more certain they can go back safely and the premier has guaranteed those students will not lose their seats in the class. But Hapke said there’s no way teachers can cater to the needs of individual students through distance learning while also teaching groups in the classroom and says the answer would be to hire more teachers.
“Teachers can’t do both jobs, that was proven in the spring,” said Hapke. “We did it, but that was continuity of learning. We already had relationships with students and we had processes and curriculum already developed for seven months at that time.
“We’re starting fresh on Monday, so if a child is staying out until September 30th, how does he get his leaning needs met for the month of September? That’s 13 days of school. We are just not sure how this is going to roll out. Teachers are feeling that the buck is stopping with them to create the plans to meet the decisions the ministry made but did not provide detail to. There’s just confusion there.”
Kids were back in their desks Thursday on a day when B.C. reported its highest incidence of new COVID cases with 139 confirmed tests. Alberta schools reopened two weeks ago and so far there have been two in Calgary and one in Lethbridge. An outbreak is declared with two or more cases are confirmed in the same school.
“This is going to be a stressful time over the next two weeks as we wonder, is it in my classroom, is it being spread now,” said Hapke. “The district is addressing our concerns as far as the sanitization of classrooms. It’s not what everyone had hoped because it’s really hard to sanitize a classroom when there are children within a classroom.”