Class for Fraser-Cascade School District 78 resume on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Even amid the trials and struggles of navigating a pandemic for his first two years with SD78, Superintendent Balan Moorthy is excited for the school year ahead.
“I think this community, the district, has done an exceptional job navigating something that was completely unpredictable without a blueprint, and to see that our schools remained open last year and the work that was done by the teachers and the support staff from the principals, it’s been amazing when we think about what we accomplished,” Moorthy said. “In many ways, schools became a sanctuary for the students in from Boston Bar to Hope to Agassiz, and that’s a credit to the amazing, dedicated staff we have here and the parents and guardians that worked with us to make it happen.”
As summer approached and the 2020-21 school year drew to a close, there were hints the 2021-22 year would be more or less back to normal. With the emergence of the Delta variant, however, school districts nationwide were tasked with adapting again.
With the new school year, masks are required for staff and students grades 4 to 12 in all indoor spaces and on school busses; they are recommended for students in kindergarten through grade 3. Moorthy said cohorts are no longer required, which doesn’t change much for the way schools throughout the district are run in the first place.
“Our schools are so small, they’re naturally in cohorts anyway,” he added. “We didn’t have to adapt the same way I would’ve had to adapt when I was at Walnut Grove Secondary with 2,030 kids with the cohort size of 400.”
Moorthy said the district is working with Fraser Health to support COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Hope and Agassiz’s secondary schools as well as Boston Bar Elementary-Secondary. SD78 is sending out information concerning school-specific COVID guidelines to parents throughout the district ahead of the start of the year.
Overall, Moorthy said there hasn’t been a lot of aggressive pushback on the school’s mask mandate and other COVID-related protocols. However, families have voiced “disparate views,” he added, with some disagreeing with masks but others disagreeing with getting rid of last year’s cohort protocols.
“We’re starting to really get these polar viewpoints as to what is the right thing to do,” Moorthy said. I think putting them back in school is absolutely the best thing we can do for our students right now. I would like our entire community, parents and students, to be vaccinated. I think it’s the healthiest thing that we can do to prevent the spread of COVID.”
From working pre-pandemic to mid-pandemic, Moorthy has seen COVID’s effects on mental and emotional health of students.
“A lot of students talked about their levels of stress and anxiety that got amplified through the COVID pandemic,” he said. “There’s a lot of inactivity that occurred because people were afraid to go outside and do the things that they regularly do. I think there was tremendous feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Moorthy estimates about 90 to 95 per cent of families want to return to in-person learning.
For those families that choose the online option, the district has created Fraser-Cascade Open Learning, an initiative offering online or hybrid (online/in-person) learning for grades 4 to 12.
“The uptake on (FCOL) right now is about 10 kids,” Moorthy said. “There may be other families that choose to do a course with Fraser Cascade Online, and that’s fine as well, but we don’t have a huge uptake of parents recognizing it. I think they’ve probably gone to a better state of normalcy and I think people are recognizing that having kids in schools is the best thing for them.”
Moorthy said there are new factors to navigate in the coming school year, including athletic events and when masks should and should not be worn.
“I think there’s this whole balance of probabilities,” he said. “What’s going to be the best for the kids socially, emotionally, physically? What’s the best in terms of trying to keep them safe with mask wearing, and what’s most realistic? I think that’s where we’re at.”
Even with COVID complicating another school year, Moorthy said there’s plenty to be excited about with the introduction of new staff, new teachers and the emergence of new ideas for the future.
“Be excited,” Moorthy said. “Be cautiously excited and optimistic that we’re going to have a good school year.”