Schools in Langley officially opened on Tuesday with fewer provincially-mandated COVID-19 safety protocols, and although the first day was a shortened timetable parents were nervous nonetheless.
“Anxious, but excited,” are the words Shelby Dingwall used to describe how she was feeling while walking her five-year-old son to Nicomekl Elementary for his first day of kindergarten.
It was a new experience for Dingwall, and son Kingston, where the pair were not only marking the beginning of attending school they were doing it amid a pandemic.
“I’m a little nervous, but excited,” said Kingston when asked how he was feeling about entering the classroom.
“I’m excited to go on the playground,” he added, as he eyed the outdoor area over his shoulder.
Students Kingston’s age, up to Grade 3, are not required by the province to wear masks, nor are they eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Presently, Health Canada has approved COVID-19 vaccines for those 12 years and older.
“He was in daycare and he did bring home COVID once… and now there are more kids so it’s a little nerve-wrecking, but we’re going to trust the process,” Dingwall said.
But the process looks a little different for the 2021-22 school-year.
Unlike the previous school year, this year, the province no longer requires cohorts or learning groups, physical distancing of two metres is no longer recommended, there are no staggered start and end times, schools will see reduced cleaning, and online learning options like last year’s Transition Support Model are no longer provided.
Some of those changes have left parents like Corey Reid and Shelby Truesdale uneasy, who were at the Langley City elementary school Tuesday morning seeing off son Decklan.
“I think I’m more nervous than he is,” said mom.
The first day at our secondary schools involved a lot of care and connection. At @LangleySS we followed our Leadership Students as they helped make our new grade 9 students feel welcome.#MySD35Community pic.twitter.com/uAcKgI2gKY
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) September 8, 2021
Decklan was home-schooled last year, so returning to school was a big change for him. When asked how he felt about having to wear a mask indoors he dropped his head down.
“This will be first time he’ll be back in class in a year and a half,” Reid noted.
The family wasn’t prepared to have Decklan return to school for Grade 4, but it was more than concerns about COVID that forced their decision.
“[It was] not having the ability to hold a place for him,” Reid explained. “If they don’t start school there’s no guarantee they’ll have a place for the school-year.”
Reid cited concerns of the Delta variant, noting some states in the U.S. that have started school and seen a rise in cases.
The Langley School District, as directed by the province, has modified how COVID-19 notifications will be distributed this year.
There was a lot of excitement at all our school sites today! As we welcomed our students into our schools, we talked to some of our teachers at James Kennedy Elementary about the new start.#MySD35Community pic.twitter.com/VbTu6yfyW4
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) September 7, 2021
“Unlike last year, COVID-19 notifications directed to the broader school community such as exposure letters will not be issued,” said Gord Stewart, superintendent of Langley schools.
“These types of notifications will be distributed only if deemed necessary by public health to help with contact tracing or managing an outbreak.”
It’s news Reid isn’t pleased with.
“We’d like to see that continue,” he said about last year’s notification process.
Meanwhile, dad Devon Heath took some comfort in drawing on past experience of how school operates with the added health and safety protocols.
“[We’re] more comfortable this year than last year, knowing what we’re getting into, but still a little nervous with all that’s going on in the world, that’s for sure,” said Heath, who was seeing off son Rypien for his first day of Grade 1 at Nicomekl Elementary.
“I just hope more people get vaccinated,” he said.
As of Aug. 31, 63 per cent of kids between the ages of 12-17 in Langley had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 75 per cent had received one, according to most recent BC Centre for Disease Control data.
Seventy-nine per cent of Langley residents in the 18-49 age group have received one dose of the vaccine, while 70 per cent have received two.
Langley Advance Times reached out to the Langley Teachers’ Association for vaccination data on its members, and union president Tanya Kerr said that information wasn’t available yet.
Meanwhile, at Alex Hope Elementary in Walnut Grove, Caitlin Haddrell picked up her two children, in Grades 3 and 6, after their first day.
“I’m okay with it,” said Haddrell. “I saw lots of masks this morning, so that made me feel good.”
With one child in the mask-mandated age groups of Grades 4 to 7, and the other in the masks-recommended groups of kindergarten to Grade 3, Haddrell said they have a “family mask mandate.”
She was a bit nervous about the announcement that there wouldn’t be public exposure notifications this year.
Uiming Zhong was also at Alex Hope, picking up his son, a first grader.
“The school has taken a lot of measures to avoid the risk,” Zhong said.
As for how his son was feeling about his first day of school, “I think he feels a little sad to go back to school [after the summer], but he will be okay,” Zhong said.
Get ready for going back to school with our Healthy Back to School Guide. We have information and resources about COVID-19, back to school anxiety, nutrition, sleep and more: https://t.co/HCCtq3UUS8 pic.twitter.com/NxF3536odt
— Fraser Health (@Fraserhealth) September 7, 2021
Principal Nathan Erker said said the school has done a lot of work with its school community around safety over the last year and a half.
As a kindergarten through Grade 7 school, about half their grades are under the mask mandate and half are recommended.
“We’re well in the majority of our students wearing masks, including the K to Grade 4 population,” Erker said.
For the second first day of school in a row during the COVID-19 pandemic, most things are the same, Erker and vice-principal Courtney Robertson said.
Kids are excited, and so are teachers and other staff, said Robertson.
– with files from reporter Matthew Claxton
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