85% of students return to school in Greater Victoria and Sooke, almost 90% in Saanich district

About 85 per cent of students have returned to classrooms in the Greater Victoria and Sooke school districts, while even more — 89 per cent — are back at school in the Saanich district.

In the Sooke School District, 23 per cent of those returning students were initially registered in remote learning because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Board chairman Ravi Parmar said the “pretty substantial” turnaround is not unexpected. “We knew that it would take some time for parents to see the processes that we’d set in place,” Parmar said. “It’s great to see those kids heading back into school.”

The overall number of students expected this year in the Sooke district is about 11,100.

The school year started Sept. 10 with enchanced cleaning and social-distancing rules and the creation of smaller “cohorts” of students and teachers — 60 for elementary and middle-school students and 120 for high school students — to limit contacts.

The percentage of students returning to school in Greater Victoria and Sooke is consistent with the provincial average, according to a Ministry of Education survey of school districts. Forty-four of the province’s 60 districts have so far responded to the survey.

Saanich School District superintendent Dave Eberwein said the 89 per cent return-to-school rate for the district’s 7,100 students suggests it has done a good job of communicating with parents about safety protocols. “I’m really pleased that almost nine out of 10 students are back in our schools.”

About nine per cent of students are registered for remote learning, and Eberwein said numbers are still fluctuating as parents finalize their decisions about the 2020-21 school year. “We’ll just have to wait and see as to how things settle out.”

James Taylor, a member of the Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils of Saanich, said some people remain anxious about sending their children to school, especially with rising COVID cases across the country.

“I think that a lot of people are still kind of struggling to figure out what’s best with them.”

The provincewide survey found that an additional 624 teachers have been hired in 34 districts, as well as another 542 custodial staff in 38 districts. More counsellors, bus drivers and administrative staff have been brought in, as well.

In the Saanich district, about 25 more teachers and up to 15 custodians are being hired. Eberwein said more teachers are being hired in the Saanich district for remote learning and others have been added to the on-call list, while postings are up for more custodial positions.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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