“Nervous” is the word for the start of this school year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re all nervous, I won’t lie,” said Trevor Takasaki, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association (MRTA).
But he added the union and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School district have been planning for the re-opening all summer, and added “We’re doing better than a lot of districts.”
“It’s a nervous week,” echoed Eugene Javier, chair of the district parent advisory council (DPAC). “But we’ve prepared as far as we can go.”
Takasaki said teachers have their worries, and social distancing is among them. They would have preferred to see school density at the same levels as during spring, when students did not attend every day, and classes were generally half full.
“There is no way in a regular classroom kids can sit two metres from each other,” he said. “You would need a cafeteria.”
But the province has allowed for all students to come back this week.
Schools with enough space could hire more teachers to have smaller classes. The BC Teachers’ Federation has been pushing for the hiring of more teachers, using over $242 million in federal assistance. However, Takasaki pointed out there is still a teachers shortage in the province, and districts are scrambling to find staff.
This district will allow graduate return for some students, with support online. But again, more staff will be needed to provide the online learning.
He sees the graduated return as a boon to district parents and students who are nervous. It allows students to be at home, but maintain a relationship with a teacher. He notes some districts aren’t offering it, but it gives SD42 parents some flexibility.
“It’s not a one-size or nothing.”
He noted online teaching is also a benefit for teachers who have serious medical conditions.
“Without it, some teachers would choose not to work this year.”
Teachers would like to be able to determine when students should wear masks, but the Education Ministry has already set the standards. Staff and students at high schools will be required to wear them in high traffic areas, including hallways and on buses.
“Limitations are at the provincial level,” he said.
The DPAC executive met this week, and there were mixed feelings, said Javier.
Parents would like to see more opportunities for gradual re-entry into the school system, with online supports.
They too worry about social distancing.
Javier said he has tried to teach his own children about social distancing with limited success, and said it will be up to teachers to drive these messages home, using markings on floors and signage to drive the important messages about COVID-19 home.
“The first month is really going to be about health and safety.”
Seeing the board’s plans, and the level of detail, has him personally reassured, said Javier.
“This is brand new. We’re not feeling 100 per cent confident, but we have to move forward.”
Educators returned to school on Sept. 8 and 9, with students scheduled to go back on Sept. 10.