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New school year brings more activities for students, but concerns remain over COVID

One of the big questions going into this year is about events such as assemblies, according to the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association.
Lindsay Murphy, with daughters Evelyn Murphy, in Grade 1, and Sarah Murphy, in preschool, greets Celina Reese and her daughter Yvette Reese, in Grade 2, at Campus View Elementary School.

As Rupi Badh dropped her daughters off Tuesday for the first day of school at Campus View Elementary, she had mixed feelings.

As a nurse, she said, she’s more concerned about this school year than she was the last one because of the more highly infectious Delta variant.

Her children are also starting Grade 1 and Grade 2, where masks aren’t yet mandatory, said Badh, who is double-vaccinated. “But I do believe they have to have some sort of protection, so I’m telling mine to wear masks in class.”

Masks are mandatory for students beginning in Grade 4.

Daughters Rasna Bola, who is starting Grade 2, and Nanaki Bola, starting Grade 1, each brought a bouquet of flowers to present to their new teachers, to let them know they are appreciated, Badh said.

Fellow Campus View parent Celina Reese said it feels good to be getting back into a routine with daughters Isla and Yvette, despite the pandemic, adding Campus View luckily avoided COVID outbreaks last year.

“Fingers crossed for another year.”

Kristine Byram was also happy for Grade 4 son Sebastian and Grade 1 daughter Annika to be back at Campus View, although she said she was “a little nervous” about the mental impact of kids having to wear masks,” she said. “I’m sure there is some science behind that, but I am a little worried how that impacts them in their social groups.”

Byram said, however, that being able to see her children play school sports this year will be “awesome.” “They did get to do their sports [last year], but we didn’t get to see them develop in their sports.”

At Margaret Jenkins Elementary, Parent Advisory Council president Heather Macdonald said her daughter, Lily Ross, is wearing a mask she made herself to class, even though she is only in Grade 3 and not required to do so.

As for the PAC, she said it’s uncertain what it can do in the way of community-building events such as the usual fall dance and welcome-back barbecue.

“We weren’t allowed to hold them last year, obviously, but we’re just waiting to hear from the district what we can and can’t do.”

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron, who represents about 2,000 members, said teachers continue to advocate for a mask mandate for all students, not just those in Grade 4 and above.

She said one of the big questions going into this year is about events such as assemblies, noting guidelines refer to a gradual transition, but don’t say what’s allowed or not allowed and “whether or not you can have 50 people or 20 people or five people,” she said. “I think we need clarity around that, and quickly.”

Rylan Domenichelli, who is in Grade 11 at Edward Milne Community School, said she expects the new school year to be a bit of a “shock” to students, since everyone will be in the building at the same time — unlike last year.

“It’s going to be really weird having everyone there at once.”

The school is using a new quarter system, where for 10 weeks, students take two classes at a time, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. “Then you switch to your next two classes for the following 10 weeks and you follow that throughout the year.”

Domenichelli said there will be up to 30 students in a class, rather than the 15 last year.

The most prominent change will be outside class, however, she said.

“I think the biggest thing is just seeing what it’s like during our breaks and our lunches, because that’s when people are really going to be moving around and interacting with each other, and taking masks off to eat.”

Campus View principal Dwayne Doyle said the move to more in-person learning is much-anticipated.

“Look at all the smiling faces and families coming on their bikes,” he said, noting COVID-10 protocols continue to be in effect in the school, with arrows dictating movement, and “lots of hand washing.”

Doyle said the school will ease into extracurricular activities, which students are looking forward to enjoying with their friends. “I can’t wait for that to open up.”