Back to school

·6 min read

WEST COAST — This Wednesday, Sept. 7, marks the beginning of the 2022-23 school year for K-12 students in Newfoundland and Labrador. The last three years have been progressing through the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, students and teachers spent many months in online classes.

The provincial government has announced that the priority of this school year is to maintain in-person learning for students across the province, according to the Department of Education.

“Students, teachers and staff should expect schools to reopen under the same conditions as when classes ended in June 2022.

• Masks continue to be recommended in schools. The prevalence of illness-related absences will be monitored throughout the school year and, if necessary, masking requirements may be introduced at a school or regional level to maintain in-person classes.

• Students, teachers and staff should stay home if they become sick. However, people with COVID-19 symptoms related to other known causes (e.g. runny nose due to allergies or lingering cough from prior illness) can still attend.

• All students, teachers and staff should stay up-to-date on their vaccinations. These are key to minimizing disruptions during the school year by lessening self-isolation time frames and allowing for a faster return to the classroom.

• Parents, especially of Kindergarten students, should ensure their children start the vaccination process as soon as possible. For more information, visit www.gov.nl.ca/covid19/vaccine.

• All classrooms and most common areas in schools throughout the province have air filtration and purification systems which were installed last year.

• Junior high and high school students will continue to have access to Chromebook devices. These were instrumental for online learning during the past year, and they have ongoing value for extending learning inside and outside the classroom.

“On August 23, the Department of Education will join over 90 front-line teachers, as well as educators and representatives from both school districts, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association, Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic at a second learning impact symposium, focusing on the K-12 system. The first session, which focused on the post-secondary system, highlighted a need for greater collaboration between all parties in addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the second session a working plan will be developed, which will be released publicly this fall.”

Also on the Department’s radar is the increased traffic on roadways as a result of the return to school, and motorists need to be cautious and aware, especially in school zones and near bus stops.

“The following rules are outlined in the Highway Traffic Act, with which motorists must comply at all times:

• Obey the posted speed limit in school zones and yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk.

• Never pass a school bus while stopped.

• Obey the visual signals of the bus driver or the bus, such as the activated stop arm and flashing red or amber lights.

• One metre of open space between your vehicle, and a bicycle or pedestrian, and one-and-a-half metres if the speed limit is more than 60 kilometers per hour.

• Motorists are reminded that distracted driving is illegal and poses a serious safety risk.

“Cyclists are required to use bicycle paths, or lanes where provided, instead of using the roadway. They are also required, by law, to wear a helmet. Pedestrians are encouraged to put away electronic devices and cellphones, and remove ear buds, so they can easily hear and see approaching traffic.

“School buses are held to an extremely high standard of mechanical fitness and are subject to rigorous inspection requirements to operate on provincial highways. The most recent inspections continue to show high pass ratings, with 93.7 per cent of school buses inspected receiving a pass rating, maintaining the industry’s high safety standard.”

John Haggie, Minister of Education, said back to school is an exciting time of year, but safety remains a top priority.

“I would like to remind motorists to be extra vigilant in school zones. Be careful around crosswalks, and watch out for students getting on and off buses. Let’s make this a safe and happy school year for everyone.”

Some parents aren't as stressed about their kids returning to in-person learning, especially after that was already reintroduced last year.

Janine Young of Stephenville has two kids returning to in-person learning this week, one in grade three and one in grade five, and said they are very excited to return to the classroom and see their friends.

“The rules enforcing extra hand washing and choice of mask wearing is definitely a new and more enforced topic when kids are going back to the classroom. I think the most important part is to prepare children socially and emotionally, and to explain how others may choose to wear masks when not mandatory and that’s okay. You would be surprised how many children are bullied because they choose to wear a mask,” said Young. “The nerves have dissipated since the kids went back last year for sure, and we have also come in contact with COVID ourselves already, so knowing how we have handled it previously, my anxiety is much lower than it was when COVID was more of an unknown.”

Young said both methods of learning, online and in person, offered various strengths and weaknesses.

“Positives of returning to in person was mainly the routine and schedule of daily living. As a mom of a child with autism spectrum disorder, his return to school after being online and having the back and forth with different routines was very stressful for him and our family. Online schooling is very short for younger children and leaves the parents and caregivers with extra childcare to find. A positive of the online learning, however, was that the kids were remaining healthy and avoiding the seasonal colds and flus. When they did return after being home online for so long, the sickness returned immediately.”

Leanna Felix of Three Rock Cove said her son is also excited to return to school this week.

“It was a positive experience for my son, and there were a few sick kids, but they followed the rules and stayed home until they felt better,” said Felix. “There were times when I was nervous last school year but that slowly went away as the year progressed, and now those feelings are gone completely. A negative from last year would be the nerves from sending him back. Is he in close contact with someone who is or was sick? Is he drinking from other kids' water bottles? Is he wearing a mask when he’s supposed to? Such things like that. The main positive was returning to school, my child missed learning with his friends and his teacher and all their activities. It's not the same seeing everyone from an iPad or laptop.”

Young and Felix are both in agreement that the schools need to do their best to keep schools properly sanitized so this year can go as smoothly as last year did.

“Safety should always be a priority of the school board and schools of course, and I think keeping the same rules in place they did when we left school last year was fine with me and my children. Keeping consistent routines is key,” said Young.

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News