The Gleaner

Start to school year once again overshadowed by pandemic

Students across the Valley will return to classes in early September for the start of what will be the third school year affected by the pandemic.

“Most of the pieces are in place,” says New Frontiers School Board director general Rob Buttars of plans to welcome students back, though a formal plan issued by the Education Ministry has yet to cross his desk. He says he fully expects new announcements will be made in the week leading up to the first day of classes, particularly around the issue of masks.

For now, students in secondary and elementary schools will not be asked to wear masks once seated in the classroom. A few other public health measures from last year have also been dropped, including class bubbles and limitations on the number of students per bus. Most of the sanitation measures and protocols concerning distancing and hand hygiene will remain in place.

Buttars says that he is especially concerned about the elementary level services, as these represent a significant population that is unprotected from the COVID-19 virus and the more contagious variants. The Quebec government is expected to follow several other provinces in allowing 11-year-old students who will turn 12 before the end of the year to be vaccinated, but this will do little to quell the anxiety felt by parents of students in younger grades.

The vaccination rate at the secondary level is quite high; however, Buttars admits they are concerned about lower vaccination rates in general in the Valley. “We are encouraging our high school and vocational students to get their vaccinations,” Buttars says, noting he does not want students to have to face being barred from extra-curricular activities and sports because they are not vaccinated.

“We’ll do our best to keep everybody safe, and put in place the proper measures as they come out,” Buttars says, noting that protocols have been established for contact tracing, including assigned seating on all buses. The NFSB is also working on ensuring contingency plans are ready for distance learning, in the event that become necessary.

Despite all the unknowns, Buttars says he does not think they will be faced with another year of ongoing changes. He is looking forward to a positive school year, during which students can get back to learning and having fun in the classroom.

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