As Quadra Elementary parents gathered around an outdoor message board on the first day of school to find their children’s new classes, COVID-19 was not a top concern.
“I’m excited to see her going to a higher grade, to see her learn,” Olga Netchaeva said of her seven-year-old daughter Stella, who is in Grade 2 French immersion.
Netchaeva said that COVID‑19 has become less of an issue but is “not quite over yet.”
“COVID’s always going to be around,” she said. “The apprehension is still there but we’re much more relaxed about it now.”
Things are “pretty much” back to normal and Stella is vaccinated, Netchaeva said.
Stella won’t be wearing an optional face mask to combat COVID-19, at least for now, she said. “We’ll see how things get in the fall.”
Parent Eliska Tower said she is “mentally over” much of the COVID-19 situation and said she would be happy if masks didn’t become prominent for students again.
“I hope they will not need to wear them,” she said.
She said 10-year-old daughter Lola and eight-year-old son Nino are students at Quadra in Grades 5 and 3, while their brother, Mika, will be starting kindergarten there in 2023.
Like Netchaeva, Tower said that while COVID-19 is still there, “we are not really worried about it.”
She said she wants her children to live normally despite COVID-19’s presence.
Joel Schwabe, with seven-year-old Rosalind in Grade 3 and five-year-old Caspian in kindergarten, said that whether or not they wear masks depends on what happens, like if a number of children get sick.
But he thinks COVID-19 will stay in check.
“I don’t see it being an issue this year.”
Teachers’ unions said they are keeping a keen eye on the illness.
Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Ilda Turcotte said the start of a new school year is “always exciting.”
“It’s always filled with new possibilities and new things that teachers want to try out.”
But COVID-19 continues to generate “a bit of trepidation,” with the fall commonly bringing cases of illnesses like the flu, she said.
“We’re wondering what the fall will bring.”
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Clint Johnston said that as far as COVID-19 goes, things are getting closer to normalcy — but attention is still needed.
“Education is a fairly distinct setting, lots of people coming from different households and spending a long time together in a confined space,” he said. “We continue to have some slight concerns. We know some of our members are quite nervous.”
He said teachers are looking for continued ventilation work in classrooms to ensure clean and air. “COVID is lingering over everybody’s head.”
Johnston said bargaining is also an issue for the BCTF’s approximately 48,000 members, whose contract expired June 30. Talks are set to resume Sept. 26 in Vancouver.
He said teachers would rather have returned to the classroom with a contract “and have that certainty.”
They are looking for cost-of-living protection because of ongoing inflation, he said.
Greater Victoria School District superintendent Deb Whitten said that COVID-19 practices look to be similar to those in place at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
“Really, not a lot has changed,” she said. “It’s something that we’ll pay close attention to.”
Whitten said little is different with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control guidelines when it comes to COVID-19, and the school mask mandate was discontinued in the spring.
She said the district is opening a welcome-and-learning centre at its offices on Sept. 12 that will provided centralized support “to ease some of the challenges that new immigrants and refugee families may face when they’re coming and registering in a new school system.”
That includes an increase in families arriving from Ukraine, Whitten said.
“We really want to do our best to support those coming in and make them feel welcome right from the beginning.”