The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER ISLAND – Students can head back to school on a voluntary basis starting June 1, as the first step in a graduated return to full-time classes in the fall, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Friday.
But Quadra Island parents’ reactions to the plan run the gamut from outright rejection to wholehearted acceptance of the offer to have kids head back to class.
Marc Doll, who has twin daughters in Grade 5, said not only will the girls stay away from school next month, they likely won’t be returning in September either.
“From our point of view, we won’t be having the kids return to school until we have a vaccine, or at least a better sense of how things are going to unfold,” said Doll. “There’s no problem for us in keeping the kids on the farm.”
Doll and his wife fear there will be a second, more serious wave of COVID-19 as the respiratory flu season ramps up in the fall, just as full-time classes are expected to get underway.
“It may look well in hand in September, but if a wave comes in November, that could be worse and more deadly,” Doll said, adding as a former teacher, he’s comfortable home-schooling daughters Charlotte and Gabrielle.
However, he said the situation must be difficult for parents trying to work at home or who must return to jobs.
Stringent physical-distancing and cleaning protocols will be put in place to protect children and staff from COVID-19, said Horgan, who was joined by Education Minister Rob Fleming, Child Care Minister of State Katrina Chen and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for the announcement.
Returning to class is optional and most students will attend school part-time, Fleming said.
“To do things safely, we will need to limit the number of students in schools, so we can manage physical distance.”
Kids from kindergarten to Grade 5 will be in class two to three days a week, Fleming said, adding elementary schools would be at 50 per cent or less of normal capacity.
Students from Grade 6 upward will likely attend class one day each week, with only 20 per cent of students in school at a time.
However, children of essential workers or students who need extra supports will continue to be able to attend classes full-time, Fleming said.
Lunch breaks, recess, drop-offs and pick-ups will be staggered, and children will ride buses one student per seat unless riding with another family member.
Each school board has to file protocol plans with the education ministry before opening, and parents can expect to hear details about their children’s return to school from their district by May 22.
If they don’t, they should reach out to their school principal, Fleming said.
Tara Taylor, a mother of two children in Grades 1 and 9, said she definitely wouldn’t be sending her daughter back to elementary school in June.
Younger kids are notorious for touching everything and everybody, Taylor said.
“My take … is that if we’re going back to a classroom situation, it will be impossible to maintain the safety and hygiene standards needed to keep everyone healthy,” she said.
She would consider returning her daughter to school to get some social interaction under certain conditions.
“Given the summer weather and our location, I could see how a modified outdoor program would be beneficial,” Taylor said.
Her daughter is doing well at home, learning practical skills like beekeeping on their rural property, and the family has lots of resources to help educate her.
However, Taylor is still uncertain about whether her older son will head back to school, especially as he’d have to travel with other people by bus and ferry to get there.
“It’s definitely a discussion I’d have with him,” she said, adding he might not be interested, as he’s doing pretty well with his online learning.
Heather Kent, whose son Breccan is in Grade 2, said she was surprised schools would even open for the last month of the year.
School District 72 has already sent out a survey asking parents if they wanted to have their child return or if they needed any other further supports, Kent said.
She’s not feeling overly worried about sending her son back to school and is fairly confident the district’s plans will safeguard kids’ health.
“My opinion is they are actually being quite smart about it by ensuring it’s part-time to ensure physical distancing,” Kent said. “I don’t feel it’s being done willy-nilly.”
Should there be a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, schools would shut quickly, she said.
But regardless, Kent and her husband will likely wait until September to send Breccan back to school.
“We’re not fearful so much,” Kent said, noting she and her husband can work from home. “But we’re in the position where we don’t have to expose him, so why do it?”
Additionally, she figures there might be a limited number of spots available for kids at school to maintain distancing protocols.
“They can save those spots for essential workers, or parents of students that really need them.”
There are 5,000 students, children of essential workers or kids who need extra supports, who have already been attending classes throughout B.C., said Education Minister Rob Fleming.
School District 72 is also already providing child care for 17 children of essential workers, and is slated to start school for vulnerable students starting May 19, the district officials stated in an email Tuesday.
Additionally, the district is providing 240 students a week with food assistance, with a handful of families getting aid on Quadra Island.
Mother Keri Smith, manager of the Quadra Island General Store, said she’s eager for her daughter Oaklyn, who is in Grade 4, to return to class, as both she and her partner work outside the home.
Previously, Smith could take her child to work with her, but she feels Oaklyn would be as safe or safer at school.
“The parents I’ve talked to are sending their kids (back) because they feel it’s safe at this point, and the kids need it for their mental well-being,” Smith said.
She and her partner have juggled their workload with home-schooling so far, but it’s been tricky, Smith added.
“As much of a superhero as I like to think I am … I welcome the opportunity to have her somewhere supervised and safe while the dust is still settling.”
Plus, she feels Oaklyn will get more guidance and practice around physical distancing in the COVID-19 era.
“Without a vaccine available, kids need to learn the new normal, keeping them home and sheltered prevents that,” Smith said.
By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/National Observer