From teachers, students, and parents: These are BC's back-to-school stories

Sep 11 2020, 2:35 pm

Last week, Daily Hive put out a call to our readers to share their thoughts and feelings on British Columbia’s return to school.

Within days, hundreds of responses filtered in from parents, students, and teachers of all ages.

Many readers said that they were feeling scared and apprehensive, with concerns over class sizes, physical distancing, the quality of learning, and the mental health of all parties involved.

Teachers, specifically, are concerned about increased exposure to the virus as well as the mental health of both themselves and the students. There are also worries about school spirit and morale, as well as having to adapt to a new learning system.

There were some respondents, however, who believe that the province is ready for a return to school and that it’s a necessary step for students.

Here are some responses that Daily Hive received: 

An anonymous university student at UBC and Langara

“I’m very grateful for the fact that post-secondary schools are going online and I have major respect for teachers who are not given as much information. However, I have a younger sibling who will be forced to go back to secondary school.

I’m frustrated with the lack of information given to us by the VSB. I would like to know how they are planning to prevent transmission and what additional steps they are planning to take to support the students and the teachers.

It’s frustrating because I still live with my parents and sister and I have a compromised immune system. It’s frustrating that they’re planning to open aimlessly without a plan and perhaps contributing to a second or third wave.”

Mike, an elementary school teacher on the North Shore

“I feel that the current model is both politically and economically expedient, but does not take into concern the health and well-being of our students and educators. Packing children into classrooms, without proper social distancing, undermines the entire set of community health guidelines!

We are missing proper ventilation, PPE, and limited classroom sizes. There will also be no social distancing at lunch so all efforts to contain the virus in pods will be subverted by interactions during this time.

My concern is that we aren’t making the proper investment to protect our schools and that a severe outbreak will alarm parents, causing our schools to shut down once again. If we make the investment now, we won’t be faced with the worst-case scenario. But, in order to achieve that level of safety we need the support of the public to hold our politicians accountable. Protect our children!”

Charlotte, an elementary school teacher on the North Shore

“We’ve been back at school already. The school isn’t following the protocol that they’ve advertised to parents and the staff. There is a lack of accountability on the leadership team. Safety for staff is not a concern. It’s all about PR and doing what they think parents want.

Students need to be back in class learning, but safety needs to be the top priority for everyone involved, students AND teachers. Teachers’ mental health also needs to be made a priority along with students.”

An anonymous high school teacher from Delta – Surrey

“Tried to set-up my classroom and spent two hours trying to figure out how to space out a full class of students and social distancing. Not sure why I even bothered. I knew it’s impossible. I feel unsafe about going back. I feel unprepared. I feel very overwhelmed.

I am worried about bringing the virus home to my family. I am worried about students not taking things seriously and having to fight constant battles around protocols. I feel like I’m a guinea pig or a pawn being used. I feel quite stressed about classes themselves.

We only just got finalized timetables on Wednesday and that is not enough time to prepare for classes, especially those in hybrid form. I’m concerned that everything will just change again and I’ll have to start planning from the beginning all over again. I’m concerned about the impact this will have on my mental health.”

F. Banks, a New Westminster high school parent

“I’m scared, anxious and living in fear, I have no immune system. It wouldn’t take much for my child to bring the virus home the way things are set up now.

Parents should be given the option to not have to enroll their child in school. Not doing so will take their children off the school roll and they may lose their place. This is a no-win for anyone.”

Tiffany, a Vancouver elementary school parent

“I think they are doing a great job. I feel like this is our new normal and that we are so lucky to be living in BC. School is necessary for the mental well-being of the children and for parents to get back to work.”

An anonymous university student at SFU

“I’m glad to be going back. I think it’ll be better than last year, where they just had to wing it.

I’m paying the same amount but in my opinion, not getting the same quality of education. I’d much rather be in a classroom. I miss walking to and from classes, meeting people in the hall and after class.”

Chris, a high school teacher in New Westminster

“It’s not well funded, classrooms are too small with too many students, and the learning group sizes are unrealistic. It’s unsafe.

I’m unhappy about the guidelines set and communicated by the provincial health officer. Science seems to be used to support political agendas.”

Kim, an elementary school parent in Richmond

“I’m honestly relieved that my district has offered a temporary online learning platform as many others don’t have that option. I am, however, very concerned that kids can ‘rejoin’ their classmates in October and November. This is peak flu season!

I’m really concerned that putting kids in a class will lead to more harm than good. Some parents aren’t taking COVID as seriously as others and in turn, other children and families are put at risk.”

Peter, an elementary school parent in Delta – Surrey

“I’m unsure, afraid, and reluctant. My overall feeling is that we’re going into the school year blind. It’s a go-with-the-flow system with a let’s-see-what-happens attitude.”

Glo, a high school parent in the Tri-Cities

“I feel that the government placed a higher need to restart the economy than on children and their health. The so-called 120-student bubble is laughable. Many students have school bands and school sports teams that are not in the bubbles.

Everyone is exposed to everyone else’s extended bubbles. And obviously, no one thinks about families with two or more children from different schools.”

Heather, a high school parent in Richmond

“I think it’s ridiculous that the kids are being sent back to school as COVID numbers are soaring. They need to shut down and do online classes or at the very least, give the parent, students, and teachers that are concerned the option of fully online classes through the school rather than having to withdraw and go the distance learning route.”

Sophie, an elementary school parent in Vancouver

“I hope it goes well and our kids stay safe, but I’m a single parent and a nurse. I don’t have the option of keeping my child home.”

Rebecca, a high school parent in the Tri-Cities

“What I see are many negative comments about the plan and to Dr. Bonnie Henry. I feel that the government is doing the best within their abilities. The BC Teacher Federation’s persistence in asking for more only adds fuel to the fire.

Also, how many of the high school teachers are incapable of teaching online because they are not trained? When the school was shut down in March, two-thirds of my son’s teachers didn’t teach but gave out homework for self-study or group projects.

Do I want my kid to learn nothing online or be in class with protective equipment?”

AJ, an elementary school teacher in the Tri-Cities

“Schools are prepared in the sense that they’re meeting the guidelines set by the ministry. But you can’t physically distance 30 students in a classroom and masks aren’t mandatory. There are classrooms where windows aren’t open and the ventilation system doesn’t work. The list goes on and on.

“I fear that putting kids back in schools so quickly will lead to serious trauma if cases increase, which, unfortunately, seems likely.”

Josephine, a middle school parent in Richmond

“I want to know how the school will respond if there are confirmed cases once classes resume. Will the whole cohort group or nearby classmates of the infected student be isolated? In which situation will the school close down again?”

K, an elementary school teacher in Vancouver

“As a learning support teacher, we’re not considered as part of any learning cohort. In my past, my caseload would be around 100 or more students depending on their needs.

There are no specifics about how many learning support teachers can have their own small groups in the same room. Also, in the past, learning support teachers have been asked to do classroom coverage when there is a shortage of teachers on call.

There a lot of unanswered questions. It makes me feel that we are in an experimental period with things that are not fully planned.”

An anonymous high school teacher in Delta – Surrey

“My admin is doing what they can but I’m terrified to know that the parameters that they’re working with won’t keep me or my students safe.

I literally started crying just thinking about the logistics of regular preparation for the first days of school. Even those simple things are stressful and unsafe.”

Jennifer, an elementary school parent in the Tri-Cities

“The Ministry of Education completely dropped the ball. Schools and parents were ready for hybrid models in September that would have allowed for social distancing but on the eve of the announcement everything was irresponsibly blown up.

Parents may want full-time ‘daycare’ through school, but it’s not reasonable in the current climate.”

Christie, a high school teacher in the Kootenays

I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed with this terrible plan that ignores science and the government’s own advice. I am in a cohort. On average, they have 80 to 90 students.

However, classes are not made by cohorts, so in my first quarter, both of my classes have students from four different cohorts. I’ve been told I have to make four pods spaced six feet apart so that students in each cohort can stay away from each other.

And I’m not allowed to have a mandatory mask policy in my classroom. It feels like the cohorts are completely useless.”

Bryan, a university parent in Delta – Surrey 

“Why would we sacrifice our kids for the economy? My anxiety is through the roof, my blood pressure is high, and my kids are terrified.”

An anonymous elementary school teacher in Abbotsford

“At the end of May, I had a student video chat with me right before the return to school in June. He was almost in tears — bags under his eyes, coughing, headache, no sleep, and feeling terrible.

His mom was going to send him to school still. This mom is raising her son and daughter on her own. She works a minimum wage job and can’t afford to take sick time off.

Many low-income families are in similar circumstances and I feel for their well-being and safety upon this return to school.”

Kathleen, a high school teacher on Vancouver Island

“The return is poorly planned and unsafe. I think the provincial government rammed through their educational plan, only thinking of the political and economic benefits — totally negating the issues of safety and responsibility regarding the dangers to COVID.”

Nicole, an elementary school teacher in Nanaimo

“I don’t feel that the government has the best interest of teachers or students in mind. They are more worried about money than our well-being.

I worry about becoming sick, exposing my family, the outbreaks, and lack of safety protocols. How can I manage without pay if my family falls sick and I have to take time off to care for them? I can no longer rely on the grandparents to help out.”

Tiffany, a high school parent in Langley 

“I believe our public health is only concerned about being able to contact trace. I don’t think they care about occasional potential coronavirus cases. I think there isn’t any concern about the potential long-term effects on adults and children who get sick.”

An anonymous high school teacher in Maple Ridge

“I’m both a parent and a teacher. I feel that so many people are focusing on the negative and not the positive. I’m very frustrated that I can’t speak freely, on any platform, about my opinion due to the backlash of negativity that will come at me.

I think many people share my opinion but are not as vocal about it as they feel they’ll be criticized and knocked down.”

Got a back-to-school story you want to share? Fill out our online form below or email us at [email protected] to have your say.

Editor’s note: Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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