Mixed emotions as most B.C. students return to school Monday amid Omicron wave

WatchThousands of students in B.C. are going back to school on Monday despite COVID-19 cases running rampant in the province. Tahmina Aziz has more.

Despite COVID-19 cases running rampant in B.C., thousands of students across the province are going back to school on Monday.

The provincial government delayed the return to school for most by a week, but even with the extra time to prepare, teachers and students aren’t sure how the school year will look amid the Omicron wave.

“It is kind of scary because not all kids are vaccinated and there have been cases of COVID in classes of mine and my friends and family,” said Grade 12 student Gina Hartwell.

Winona Waldron, the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers Association, said teachers are apprehensive about how the school year is going to look.

“We’ve been told to prepare for widespread illness and that’s scary for folks,” she said.

“Perhaps some people will have very mild symptoms and a cold, but what if you don’t? What if you’re one of the ones that gets very sick? Or gets one of your loved ones very sick?” Waldron continued.

The delayed start did help teachers plan what to do if schools shut down and move online, but not enough focus was put on new health and safety measures, according to Waldron.

“It would have been more reassuring if we’d gone into lower density. If we knew we’re all getting provided with N95 masks. If we knew the ventilation systems have been upgraded if teachers were prioritized for boosters,” she said.

RELATED: B.C. will move ahead with in-person classes for K-12 students on Monday

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Friday that schools will have access to three-layered masks but not N95s, despite calls from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

Meanwhile, parents agree that teachers need support, but say the return to school is a relief.

“As nervous as parents are, we want to return to school,” said Angela Cooper Carmichael, the president of Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.

“There are some children who are in school now who never had what we would call a ‘normal year’ with events and the excitement of being together in a school community and parents also have to work,” she continued.

Other parents have voiced their concerns online, saying they’re keeping their kids home until cases subside — Hartwell’s friends feel the same way.

“A lot of them don’t want to go back to school. A lot would prefer to do online,” she said.

But Carmichael said online learning is challenging for both parents and children with learning disabilities.

“We’ve been having these conversations with our children for almost two years now. So, the concern is always there, but we know what we need to do to stop the spread,” she said.

The province said enhanced safety measures will be put in place as students return to classes on Monday, including staggered break times, virtual assemblies and visitor restrictions.

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