“Should we send our kids to school or not?”
That was the big question of 2020, as parents struggled to find the right answer for their families.
The concern became local on Feb. 21, when Fraser Health announced the first presumptive case of the virus in a school community.
By March 6, the pandemic was enough of a travel issue to force the Chilliwack School District to cancel a student trip to France. Days later, all international trips were cancelled, including Kenya, and one to both Scotland and Ireland. At least one family was still waiting on a full refund for a trip as of mid-December.
On March 18, Rob Fleming, then-minister of education, suspended all in-class instruction indefinitely. For some, it became known as the “spring break that never ended.”
Parents wanted to know how their kids would continue to receive their education safely.
“This is, indeed, an unprecedented time but I know we will weather this storm and come out stronger, given our resolve and caring for each other in this great school community,” interim superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam wrote to parents March 26.
In April, devastating news came that graduation ceremonies would not go forward as they have traditionally have. In a society where everything had moved online, grad celebrations would follow suit. No proms. No giant photo shoots. No dry grad.
We received calls, emails and private messages that ranged in tone from anger to disbelief. But graduation ceremonies were had, after all. Teachers, administrators and parents went to great lengths to hold virtual ceremonies in small groups. It took weeks, film crews and a lot of extra planning, but they happened. Educators drove house to house to hold quick driveway celebrations, handing out awards along with confetti.
Meanwhile, some students returned to classrooms for the final weeks of the school year.
A special program was set up for children of essential workers at two Chilliwack schools, where educators innovated amongst themselves and learned on the fly how to teach in person during a pandemic.
Other teachers, and their students, bravely navigated teaching and learning online in real time. Online meetings, emails and more kept everyone at least partially connected as the district attempted to keep everyone up to speed on the basics.
COVID-19 numbers stayed low in B.C., and it all seemed somewhat of a success as summer arrived.
That is until September, and the realization that online learning would be limited. Just over 900 students enrolled in the district’s transition support program, which keeps them enrolled and connected to their school and teacher, but safely at home. That program was successful enough that it’s been extended to spring break in 2021.
COVID-19 made its arrival in the Chilliwack school community in late September, and rumours online caused outright panic. Parents were terrified and pulled their kids from the classroom, demanding better online options.
Then in late October, a number of cases were found among young dancers in the community. That caused even more concern, which in turn led to a drop in classroom attendance. Absentee rates hit about 30 per cent.
But things stabilized somewhat after that. Masks became more popular among students, and it has become easier to get tested, allowing for earlier quarantines.
Still, there are complaints about the process. Parents aren’t happy with the information lag from Fraser Health. In December, Fraser Health announced changes to their notification system, but parents have learned to rely on each other for the fastest information.
The winter break is seen as both a potential help and hindrance. While most kids won’t be seeing each other for two weeks, there is a fear that people not adhering to public health orders will facilitate more community spread – a factor that continues to be mirrored in the school setting.
For now, all parents can do is wait, and wonder.
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