This week a small variety of college students are arriving to class in faculties within the Larger Victoria space

Heather Macdonald is grateful that she works from home as it means she can be with her two girls during her extra week of school amid rising COVID-19 cases.

Classes were scheduled to start on Tuesday but are now set to begin next Monday to give schools time to work on improved safety plans.

Macdonald, president of the Margaret Jenkins Elementary School Parents’ Council, has a daughter in 6th grade in Central Middle School and a daughter in 3rd grade in Margaret Jenkins. She said Tuesday that they both manage to keep themselves busy. “One was out for a walk with a friend and they are sitting outside playing a board game.”

Macdonald has also planned play dates for the girls so that the parents involved can share childcare.

She said the week-long delay in returning to school after the Christmas break has been a challenge for some parents, including those whose jobs are away from home.

“I know some parents are grateful it’s only been a short week,” said Macdonald. “I hear that from some people.”

Some students were still able to attend school on Tuesday, including students with parents in health care and other key services, as well as students with special needs. Margaret Jenkins is one of 28 elementary schools in the Greater Victoria School District – home to approximately 20,000 students – that attended students in cohorts of 20 to 50, said interim director Deb Whitten.

She said elementary schools attended more students than middle or high schools, although total numbers were not immediately available.

Whitten said there are no classes for students this week. “Of course there is programming, but there are no classes this week.”

Programming can include basic math and reading exercises, she said.

Ravi Parmar, chairman of the Sooke School Board, which oversees nearly 12,000 students, said there were about 275 students in schools in the district as of Tuesday. The largest attendance was 29 students at David Cameron Elementary School, with numbers significantly lower at locations like Dunsmuir Middle School with nine and Belmont Secondary School with three.

Parmar said the extra week will give the district time to assess the impact of the fast-spreading variant of Omicron on its workforce, from teachers to bus drivers and supervisors.

“There are many people who become infected with COVID,” he said. “This new variant is spreading very quickly and that is why we have to get a precise picture of our current workforce.”

Parmar said the district is flexible in assessing whether students can attend school this week.

“Most importantly, we know a lot of families who have to go to work simply because they live from paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “So I would say to any family in need of school support or having issues with childcare please contact your local principal and school and we will do everything in our power to help you.”

When school resumes, extra emphasis will be placed on the daily health check for COVID-19 symptoms, he said. “If you are not doing well, please do not come to school.”

Saanich school district director Dave Eberwein said about 200 students out of 8,000 attended the school on Tuesday.

He said most parents understand the delay in starting school. “We had a very supportive parenting community in Saanich.”

Students returning to Saanich district schools this week include those with “complex learning needs” who need in-school support, he said. Parents who are key contributors – primarily health care providers – are asked to call their school principals to arrange their children’s participation.

Saanich Teachers’ Association President Michael MacEwan said teachers looked at the potential for some schools to close due to a COVID-related staff shortage.

“If COVID brings the school to a point where there are not enough staff to run the school, not enough staff to supervise the children, let alone raise the children, then there have to be some contingency plans.”

A statement from the Greater Victoria School District said additional steps such as holding virtual staff meetings and restricting school attendance are planned.

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association President Winona Waldron said its approximately 2,000 members will be busy this week preparing schools for students and also considering the possibility of returning to online learning.

Waldron said the vast majority of teachers in their association, up to 97 percent, are vaccinated and most of them will likely get their booster vaccinations this month.

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