Back-to-school: B.C. students return to class with fewer COVID-19 measures

The uncertainty surrounding B.C.'s COVID-19 fight is weighing on many families, as some students went back to school Tuesday.

Classrooms are expected to be a lot closer to normal this year, despite the highly contagious Delta variant causing case counts to soar.

However, most parents say the communication about pandemic protocols has been much clearer this time around.

There was a buzz of excitement at Eastview Elementary School in North Vancouver Tuesday morning as kids reunited with friends.

Even wearing masks, it was clear many parents and students were smiling.

“I feel really confident. We were at the school last year and they did great. They did such a good mix of being safe, but keeping the kids feeling normal,” said Reanne Price, a parent of two kids at the school.

Mother Caitlin Hayes says she was impressed with the level of communication by school staff saying her daughter was excited to be back in class.

“She's in Grade 4. So that's the cutoff for mandatory masks but she's great at wearing a mask. She wore a mask all year last year at her old school even though it wasn't mandatory,” said Hayes.

Parents with the school's parent advisory committee say school administrators have been extremely transparent and hands-on with their approach.

“I'm not concerned about them coming here, they're still playing their sports, which has been great. But I feel just for the children's mental health. It's great for them to be in school with their peers,” said Beth Nesbit, the PAC Chair.

Nesbit says she’s comfortable with the protocols in place.

“This seems a little easier than last year because they know what's happening. It's not something new. And so they're comfortable wearing the masks, they completely understand washing the hands, keeping your distance, not sharing food,” she said.

Masks are mandatory this year, but only for school staff and students in Grades 4 through 12.

Children born in 2010 or later are still unable to be vaccinated, so teachers have been asking for better classroom ventilation.

Officials have said $87.5 million has been used to make those improvements, but the upgrades are ongoing.

Students will return to full-time, in-class learning this year.

Cohorts or learning groups will not be used this year, but students will be required to complete daily health checks and stay home when they're feeling sick.

Regional measures may be implemented as needed in communities where transmission is higher.

“It's not as though we abandon the things that we learned last year, things that kept us safe. So we will do things in a thoughtful way and reintroduce new protocols as needed,” said Rick Chan, principal of Eastview Elementary.

Chan says the school’s ventilation system has been upgraded since the last school year and which has put many staff members at ease.

“We recognize that for that there's varying degrees of feelings regarding the opening of school. I like to use the term we're cautiously optimistic. We had great success last year in terms of managing the COVID protocols, and much of that is in place, along with some very important pieces, put in place this year, such as our upgraded ventilation system,” Chan explained.

Parents will not get notifications of single exposure events this year, unless there’s an outbreak or cluster of cases.

The province says it’s confident transmission in classrooms will be low again this year.