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Back to school in the Valley


Five and a half months after school schedules and routines across the province were disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers have returned to physical classrooms on a regular basis, with many caveats included in what seems to be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
For most students, school started on Tuesday (Sept. 8), with the exception being Grade 10-12 students at the SVRSS, who are divided into two cohorts that attend school every other day opposite each other.
“The daily routines have certainly changed,” said SVSD Superintendent Jon Zilkey. “Students are coming in specific doors, they are screened at the doors about their health, and, in our K-8 schools, we are trying to keep them in the same class as much as possible with the teacher moving.
“Parents are asked not to send their child if they are ill and to follow Health Links (recommendations). There is certainly more hand washing and sanitizing and, of course, the wearing of masks when you cannot social distance the recommended two metres.
“At the (SVRSS) where they are social distancing, the spacing of the desks to make sure they are the right distance away and changes in their noon hour routine in terms of specified locations they can go to has been a change,” Zilkey continued.
“Transportation has been a difference with the guidelines in how many and who we can transport, also. These are just some changes as there are quite a few with the COVID regulations in all our buildings for our staff, students and parents.”
Zilkey acknowledged that there are challenges any time a routine is disrupted, but adding a pandemic into those changes increases the challenges faced.
“Students have had to adjust to all the new procedures and learning what they can do and cannot anymore,” he said. “Students and staff have had some understandable anxiety about what things are going to look like in their learning environment and being comfortable in their new surroundings. Figuring out transportation has been a challenge with the guidelines that our acting Transportation Supervisor has been dealing with constantly.”
The school division has had to prepare for multiple situations where the threat level might change at a moment’s notice, in case a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
“Many things have been challenging in all areas and I have a great deal of respect and pride for how our staff, students and parents have handled this thus far,” said Zilkey. “Our parents and community, in general, have been absolutely amazing considering what we have asked of them.
“I know many people think the provincial mandates are too much or too little, but the overwhelming majority understand we are dealing with a great deal of unknowns, and we want to be safe and accepting of that. We have had very good questions asked and even when people in that majority disagree, they have been understanding of the situation and the rules.”
Zilkey anticipates that everyone will be more comfortable in their new environment once a routine is established for students, staff and parents, but doesn’t expect the regulations to change much in the near future as the school level currently has a yellow threat level, which is the lightest condition until a vaccine is prevalent.
“That being said, you never know and we all need to stay optimistic and supportive of each other,” he said.
“I have been to the entrance of all the schools this week in the morning or afternoon, and I have noticed lots of changes but one constant: the students I saw were happy to see their friends and happy to be back. This was exciting to see.
“I know this is going to be a difficult year, but we are going to try and retain some normalcy to it for our students, staff and parents,” Zilkey concluded, showing additional appreciation for the staff that have worked above and beyond to make things safe and welcoming for Swan Valley’s students.