School District 85 is back in session today (June 1). The 10 schools in the district are open for part-time classes for students on a voluntary basis.
Each school has worked out their own schedule to manage the number of people in the building at one time, to ensure safe physical distancing can be observed. For some, students come on staggered days. Others, like Alert Bay Elementary School, have few enough students that it’s safe to have them all at once.
Five students returned to Alert Bay Elementary. The school will be open Mondays and Tuesdays, and continuing with online learning at the same time.
“It feels wonderful to have kids in the building,” principal Jen Turner said. “The rest of the families (of 40 students) have chosen to continue with online and paper package learning, and we are supporting them in that.”
Turner said the district was well prepared, setting out protocols and communicating a safety plan to teachers and staff. The Cormorant Island community, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, recently dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19. Thirty people were sick and one passed away, but there have been no new cases of the coronavirus disease since April 30.
Farther north on the Island, staff at Port Hardy’s Eagle View Elementary School have hung six-foot paper eagles around the school as visual cues for students. First Nations cultural support worker, Beatrice Wadhams expects a difficult learning curve for the younger ones.
“It’s tough on the kids, because the kids don’t know how to keep distance. They see us and want to run up for a hug, and we have to say no,” she said. They’ve arranged desks as barriers between students, and will limit the number of students per room.
Nearby the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Elementary School has not reopened – it is not part of SD85. Also on the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw reserve is the Eke Me-Xi Learning Centre, which is a grades 8-12 school. It’s open for students on reserve, but as the First Nation territory remains closed to all non-residents, any off-reserve students who attend Eke Me-Xi are invited to attend in-class learning at Port Hardy Secondary School.
June 1 marks the beginning of Stage 3 in the B.C. Ministry of Education’s five-step plan to return to regular full-time school.