Elementary schools in B.C.’s Southern Interior have opened and with the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, it’s an unprecedented first day back at school.
Global News talked to some elementary school parents to see how they are feeling about schools being reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m glad they’re reopened, I think it’s good to get back to a sense of normal,” said Angela Walsh, a Kelowna parent.
“My son has been really excited to get the opportunity to go to kindergarten. Of course, I’m a little bit nervous not knowing how things will play out with COVID-19″.
The same sentiment was echoed by another parent.
“He was actually quite happy to go this morning and was first in line to get into his classroom. I’m feeling pretty positive,” said Amy Martens, a Kelowna parent.
“Definitely a wait and see what happens.”
Read more: Back to school: If someone in a B.C. school gets sick, what happens next?
Martins, whose son is going into Grade 5, says school resuming is like a weight being lifted off her shoulders.
“A relief, for sure. Socially, it’s nice to have him back with his peers. Get him out of the house, and having a purpose to the day. It’s hard to keep a 10-year-old busy,” said Martens.
One parent said its been a long summer for him and his wife.
“I’m excited to have them going back,” said Matthew Cleary, a Kelowna parent.
“It’s been a long spring and summer taking care of the kids at home, and working from home. So, it’s nice to get them back into school and into a regular routine.”
Read more: Coronavirus: Anxiety high for B.C. teachers as they prepare to return to school on Tuesday
Central Okanagan Public Schools says it hears some of the concerns that some parents are having, but say staff are doing everything they can within the provincial guidelines to keep everyone safe.
“We are really excited to see about 99 per cent of our kids come back to in-class instruction. We’ve got lots of safety protocols in place to make sure that the risk is low for students to attend school,” said Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools’ superintendent.
The situation will be an ongoing one, and parents say they will be monitoring how the transition of opening schools during a pandemic goes.
It’s never an easy logistical task, shepherding more than 400 second-, third- and fourth-graders into an elementary school on the first day of classes. And that’s especially true in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, when children are supposed to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other, while following directional signs and keeping their masks above their noses.
Still, Linda Norton, principal of Stewart Elementary School in Garden City, was moving them along at a brisk pace Tuesday morning, welcoming as many as she could and wearing her own mask with the inscription “Be kind, world, be kind.”
“That’s in the second gymnasium,” Norton said, directing one backpack-toting boy to a converted classroom.
“She’s on the second floor,” the principal told another student who remembered her teacher’s name but not the classroom number. “It’s 228.”
And to a third student, “You go up the stairs. It’s right next to the art room. To the left.”
Arrivals at the Stewart School began shortly before 8:30 a.m. and were mostly secured in classrooms, some in converted gyms and a library, by shortly after 9 a.m.
A few things had gone wrong on welcoming day as they always do, staffers said later. Too many students had bunched up rather than maintaining social distance, after alighting from buses or their parents’ cars. Many parents found themselves unable to use cellphone apps that were supposed to verify that students had experienced none of the headaches, fevers and other symptoms associated with coronavirus.
On the other hand, students were in school for the first time in almost six months..
“I think they were excited to be back,” said Zeynep Vitale, a PTA officer with a daughter enrolled in third grade at Stewart School. “They’ve been chomping at the bit. They missed school, they missed their friends. We told them things would look a little bit different — so just hang in there.”
“There’s laughter,” said Keri Hand, the elementary school’s assistant principal. “This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s been too quiet.”
Garden City was among more than 60 school districts that opened Tuesday across Long Island, providing the first live instruction since schools closed abruptly in mid-March. Traditionally, the day after Labor Day marks the biggest wave of student returns to classes, and Tuesday was no exception in that regard.
In other ways, however, the lingering threat of coronavirus infection has had a major impact. For starters, this season’s school schedules include a combination of in-class and online instruction. Parents of about 30 students at Stewart, for example, have opted for their children to spend full-time in remote instruction.
Moreover, a substantial number of districts have pushed opening schedules back this month, in part to gain more time for establishing health safeguards.
In Garden City, as elsewhere, school administrators are taking a flexible approach to the question of opening