How did the first day of school go last week in Flin Flon? According to members of the Flin Flon School Division (FFSD) board of trustees, it was as smooth as it could have gone, given the circumstances.
Trustees at the board’s Sept. 8 meeting said new measures to fight possible spread of COVID-19, including social distancing and mask use, splitting up the student body into separate cohorts, staggering entrance, recess, lunch break and dismissal times, were rolled out well earlier that day when kids returned to class.
“I’m a parent and I had a great experience with dropping my son off at McIsaac this morning,” said trustee Leslie Power.
“It was very organized. Kids were being very respectful of the rules and restrictions, they kept their distance. It went really good.”
Fellow trustee Leslie Fernandes agreed, adding that her own children, who attend two different schools, had no issues.
“My kids go to two different schools. It was all very organized, all the kids were wearing masks and everyone seemed to go with the flow on things,” she said.
Most students are mandated, both by the province and in the division’s own plan, to wear masks when possible. Desks have been moved to allow students to stay apart, while classes and cohorts have often been confined to certain areas of the school. If one student in one cohort gets sick, other cohorts will remain isolated by design. Some masks are available at the school, but families and students are asked to bring their own when possible.
Superintendent Tammy Ballantyne and board chair Murray Skeavington also mentioned the first day going smoothly during their addresses to board members.
“I’d like to say welcome back to our students and staff and a huge thank you to the administration team and the maintenance staff for all their hard work to ensure the schools were ready for our students today,” said Ballantyne.
“They’ve all done a wonderful job and overall, I think the first day went pretty well.”
Skeavington added that while changes are widespread within schools everywhere, the situation is no different than it is in other jurisdictions and hiccups may happen.
“This is the new normal of how schools are going to operate this year. We understand there’s going to be a few glitches that will occur - please bear with us as we work through them,” said the chair.
Before the school year began, FFSD held an online town hall meeting for parents and staff, seeking to answer any questions family members, students or staff members may have before heading to class.
“There were a lot of concerns over how the schools were going to open up, where the kids would go, lunch hours, where they’d come into school, dismissals,” said Skeavington.
“The schools had put out good enough information before back to school that a lot of the answers were there before the questions were asked.”
“A lot of people asked specific questions about their own children, depending on their specific needs,” added Ballantyne.
The changes include some limits on what students can and can’t do. Extracurricular programs, including school sports, are under a full suspension for the moment in all FFSD schools. Travel for any official purpose outside Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach is also suspended.
Skeavington said discussions to either uphold or get rid of those suspensions will take place later this month. The board’s first priority was to get classes opened again safely and efficiently - all the extras are coming next.
“The board is committed to relooking at extracurriculars at the end of September. Our goal right now was to get a thousand kids into school, get the schools running properly and then we will look at that,” he said.
Most of how the division would react if a student or staff member tests positive for the disease or if the disease becomes spread widely in the community at large would come from public health guidelines and would be under the jurisdiction of the Northern Health Region (NHR) and provincial health ministry.
“That comes from public health. They determine the rules,” Ballantyne said.
Skeavington added that schools, along with most of the rest of the province, are currently considered “yellow” in the provincial pandemic management system - some restrictions are in place but are not as strict as in some places.
“We’re at yellow now - if we get to an orange level, there’s a different set that we’d have to follow,” Skeavington said.