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B.C. students returned to the classroom on Monday, Jan. 10. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

B.C. students returned to the classroom on Monday, Jan. 10. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Students across Greater Victoria headed back to class this week as surging numbers of COVID-19 cases threaten to send them back to the security of at-home learning.

The Sooke, Saanich and Greater Victoria school districts welcomed back all students on Jan. 10 following a delayed full return after the Christmas break due to the Omicron variant’s spread. The return to class came alongside news of 1,249 new cases in Island Health over the three-day period ending Jan. 10.

Last week, district staff were planning for the “continuity of learning and reinforcing health and safety measures to provide a safe return for all K-12 students on Monday,” Deb Whitten, SD61 interim superintendent said in a statement. “Together we are implementing new protocols and preparing for challenges that the Omicron variant may present, including the possibility of school closure.”

Two B.C. schools stopped in-person classes just two days after most students returned to classrooms following an extended holiday break. The surging COVID-19 Omicron variant prompted the schools, in Hazelton and Surrey, to decide to enter “functional closure.”

ALSO READ: Two B.C. schools move to ‘functional closure’ after holiday break, says ministry

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this week’s full return to in-person classes was positive for students, who benefit emotionally, socially and intellectually in school environments.

“These are the best places for children to be,” she said Tuesday, acknowledging many people were feeling “a lot of anxiety” about the return to classrooms. “It will be bumpy over the next few weeks as we get through this wave.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the ministry will monitor student attendance levels over the coming days, as well as keep watch on numbers for teachers and staff while schools face the challenges of the Omicron variant.

“We don’t have firm (attendance) numbers yet,” she said. “We have some anecdotal reporting in from different parts of the province that indicates there is indeed a somewhat lower attendance than what would be normal for the week, but nothing dramatic and nothing firm yet.”

Stephanie Higginson, the B.C. School Trustees Association president, said Monday there were higher-than-normal rates of student absences at some Interior schools following the holiday break.

Whiteside said the safe-return plans also include provisions for “the potential need for short-term transitions to home-based learning.”

ALSO READ: City of Victoria staff vaccine mandate sees 25 put on unpaid leave

– With files from Canadian Press

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