Students slowly begin to make their way back to the classroom

Erin Bremner-Mitchell says her daughter, seven-year-old Claire, was full of excitement Monday as she returned to Grade 2 at Sidney Elementary, while mom was happy to be going back to the office at Cascadia Seaweed after weeks of working from home.

Her younger child, 18-month-old Robson, returned to daycare Monday, as well.

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“The excitement for my daughter came from her best friend being in the same pod, the same small group as her,” Bremner-Mitchell said.

She said it was an easy decision to send her daughter back to school. There have been no in-person classes in B.C. since they were suspended March 17 to help stop the spread of COVID-19, although remote learning has continued.

School is back only for June and attendance is optional.

In the Greater Victoria School District, elementary schools will be in session two days a week, middle schools for two half days and secondaries for one day — although there is provision for secondary students who need extra time with particular courses or projects to spend more time at school.

Bremner-Mitchell said the staff at Sidney Elementary did a great job of getting the school ready for the return of students, and of keeping parents informed about what has happening.

“The teacher sent us a picture of the classroom, where the desks were in a different configuration.”

She said her daughter was directed where to go after arriving at school.

“There were markers on the sidewalk outside the door that she was told to go into, so that the students were appropriately spaced,” she said.

Once inside the school, the students were taken by a teacher to a sink to wash their hands, Bremner-Mitchell said.

She said she is interested in how this month’s return to classes will affect the start of the school year in September. “I know that June is a bit of a trial.”

James Taylor, second vice-president of the Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils of Saanich, said his Grade 11 son, Liam, chose not to go back to Claremont Secondary this month.

“He’s getting what he needs out of the remote learning.”

Taylor said he has talked to a number of parents about whether their children will return, and while everyone’s situation is different, some think going back for only a limited schedule in June isn’t worth it.

The number of returnees to the Greater Victoria, Saanich and Sooke school districts was still being determined Monday, although the estimate for the Greater Victoria district last week was that about 50 per cent — or 10,000 students — would resume school.

The Greater Victoria and Saanich district saw groups of students return to elementary, middle and secondary schools on Monday, while the Sooke district saw Grade 6 and secondary students.

In the Sooke district, elementary students will attend Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Initial indications were that less than 50 per cent of the [elementary] population was going to come back, so we can manage those on two days,” said Sooke superintendent Scott Stinson.

“And then that would give Monday, Wednesday and Friday for custodial to make sure that things are cleaned and disinfected.”

With middle schools, the plan is to have Grade 6 students attend on Mondays, Grade 7s on Wednesdays and Grade 8s on Fridays.

Secondary schools have organized students into blocks, with Monday seeing those from Block A at school, Tuesday for Block B, and so on through the week, Stinson said. Friday will be for remote learning.

Numbers of students coming back to school in some areas have been low, Stinson said, including in three of the district’s four middle schools, where 136 of about 750 students have indicated they will attend classes.

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