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1,000 students in school Tuesday

More than 1,000 students were in Fort St. John schools Tuesday as part of the province's part-time return to in-class instruction.
Anne Roberts Young Principal Broyden Bennett during a Welcome to Kindergarten event held at Ecole Central, May 25, 2020. Bennett says teachers are excited to be back in class, and have already started curriculum planning for their students. “We’ve had five meetings so far, teachers are working on their pods, and what we want the community vision for the school to look like,” says Bennett.

More than 1,000 students were in Fort St. John schools Tuesday as part of the province's part-time return to in-class instruction.

SD60 Superintendent Stephen Petrucci says 1,032 were on site, roughly 20% of the district's population and about double the provincial average. Of those, 744 students were in Kindergarten to Grade 5, and 290 were in grades 6 to 12.

That's about what the district was expecting based on its parent polling, Petrucci said. 

"We're pleased to see it's what we expected," Petrucci said, noting the district will have more details next week on the full count of returnees. "Things started off very smoothly, the schools had great plans. So far, so good."

Prior to reopening day, the district had just over 600 kids in schools, mostly vulnerable students and those of emergency support worker families.

Across B.C., there were 60,000 students were in class June 2, about 10% of B.C.'s student body, while 90% of teachers returned to schools, said Education Minister Rob Fleming.

Elementary schools across the province are restricted to welcoming back up to 50% of their student population on a given day. Middle schools and high schools, meanwhile, can only welcome up to 20% of their students back per day.

“We hope that the June restart is part of something that will help us have an even stronger start to school in September," Fleming said.

As for September, Fleming said schools are likely to be a hybrid of in-class and online learning.

That would make it much like what students will be experiencing this month as they return to classes after an approximately six-week layoff. In-person classes were called off March 17 as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19.

Fleming said the hybrid model would be in place until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available and “the pandemic is officially over in this part of the world and around the globe.”

“We’ll make an official call as to how strong the restart of school is going to look like, come Labour Day, for the next school year.”

He said B.C. has to be ready for a “second wave” of COVID-19 later this year. “We have to prepare to move forward as we have done this Monday, and move backward when we get into the fall and winter.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said May 30 she would not be surprised if “one or two” cases emerge in schools in the coming weeks. So far, 82 young people under the age of 19 have tested positive for COVID-19.

The June session for schools is seen as a way to gauge what will be needed in September, Fleming said.

“We know that a lot of students have struggled at home solely based on remote online learning,” Fleming said. “I know teachers have done incredibly innovative things to make learning fun and engaging, but a lot of kids have missed in-class instruction.”

Parents who change their minds about their children staying home and now want to send them back can still contact their schools, he said.

Michele Wiebe, president of the Peace River North Teachers' Association, acknowledged the work of teachers and district administrators to prepare for both the return to class, and for online learning at the end of March.

“Everybody has worked really hard to get this up and running," said Wiebe. “Teachers worked extremely hard to bring valuable learning opportunities to students online as well as to support vulnerable and ESW students in schools these past two months. They have gone above and beyond during this pandemic.”

But, teachers are still concerned how health and safety protocols are being enforced and monitored, Wiebe said, from how front doors are being staffed when students arrive to school to how physical distancing is being policed, she said. There have been conflicting reports from teachers across the district and elsewhere in the province, she said.

"To be honest, teachers are anxious about being back in the class with students this month," Wiebe said.

"The PRNTA is also concerned and very unhappy the decision was made to have teachers return to schools with students. Even though extra cleaning has taken place in schools and WorkSafeBC protocols have been followed, all it takes is one teacher or student to contract COVID-19 and it could spread to many households in our area."

“For this not to go sideways, this has to be a community effort. I cannot stress this enough, or there might be terrible repercussions," Wiebe added.

SD60 has asked the public to not use school playgrounds during the day so students can use them, but they remain open during the evening. People are asked to follow public health guidelines if they do.

“Because we now have far more kids in session, whenever possible we want them outside with their class or teacher,” Petrucci said. 

Petrucci said schools are making adjustments to their site safety plans as the return to school rolls out.

“Certainly as all this gets going we’re working through any inconsistencies. That would be expected,” Petrucci said. “We’re adhering to every guideline and requirement.”

—with a report from Jeff Bell in Victoria

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