With backpacks, lunch boxes, and masks in tow, students across the Valley excitedly returned to the classroom last week for the start of another school year. “From most accounts, back-to-school is going quite well, especially considering this is a full return of all students,” says New Frontiers School Board director general Rob Buttars, while noting full classrooms are “something we haven’t seen in over 18 months.”
The 2021-2022 school year marks the third to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this year’s return took place under much more optimistic conditions. Despite a mandatory mask mandate for all students inside the classroom and common areas, student bubbles have been popped, and there is much more flexibility being allowed for class management.
At the same time, sanitation measures remain in place, and all efforts are being made to ensure students enjoy a safe but reassuring school experience this year – especially at the elementary school level, where students are not yet able to be vaccinated.
According to Buttars, the student vaccination rate at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR) is well above 80 per cent for a first dose and approaching 70 per cent for the second. “We are looking forward to our on-site vaccination clinic with the Montérégie-Ouest Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO) on September 10,” says Buttars, who hopes the mobile clinic will help boost the number of adequately protected students.
Full vaccine coverage will be important at the high school level as the vaccination passport will be required to participate in some sports and extra-curricular activities. Buttars has said that while he does not want to see students held back from activities because they are not sufficiently protected from the virus, the NFSB will strictly uphold the government guidelines.
The director general says that with the measures in place, he hopes the school year will remain on this course. “I really do think it is better for everyone to be learning in person,” he says.
In general, teachers and staff share this sentiment, says Nick Ross, the president of the Chateauguay Valley Teachers Association. “Everyone hopes that there aren’t as many constant changes in directives coming from the Ministry this year so that the students and staff can feel more settled into their routines,” he says, noting this will also help teachers return their focus to educating Valley students as effectively as possible.
Ross credits the NFSB with having been very understanding and supportive of teachers throughout the pandemic, but he says, “This is definitely a year during which teachers need to continue to be supported by the NFSB, the school administrations, and other stakeholders of the schools, because they have been through a lot and have done their absolute best over the past year and a half for their students.”
Parents also seem to have recognized the ongoing efforts of the NFSB, school staff, and administrations in keeping students safe. After a significant spike in the number of students legally registered to be homeschooled last year by wary parents, the numbers have dropped significantly from 96 to 26 students registered as of now.