Children wait using physical distancing while getting their picture taken at picture day at St. Barnabas Catholic School during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Sanitizer, masks and smiles mark an unusual school photo day for a COVID-19 year

Sanitizer, masks and smiles mark an unusual school photo day for a COVID-19 year

TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled sports programs, curtailed music lessons and limited class mingling at St. Barnabas Catholic School, but it didn’t cancel photo day.

Children filed into the Toronto school’s cavernous library on a recent fall day to pose in front of a green screen and offer toothy grins, while a photographer in a cloth face mask did his best to elicit spirited cheer.

Just off-camera, a child’s briefly doffed mask lay on a chair. Further out of view, masked and distanced classmates stood fixed to floor markers awaiting their turn.

The annual tradition unfolded in the most unusual of ways, but still offered a welcomed bit of normalcy for school kids navigating daily health checks, new distancing rules and rigorous hand-washing routines.

As he has on previous picture days, 12-year-old Shamar Hoohing arrived camera-ready with a new haircut and braids, done by his auntie the day before.

“I like to look really fresh during my pictures. I really enjoy looking nice,” says Hoohing.

But this year, the Grade 8 student says he also felt a particular drive to document a very unusual year.

Hoohing bemoans the fact that he can’t play basketball, nor spend recess with friends in other grades. But he’s quick to tout schoolwide efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay.

“This is an important year to show that we’ve survived and nobody got any sicknesses so far. We’ve been doing pretty good,” he says.

St. Barnabas is among what appears to be a minority of Ontario schools forging ahead with a fall photo day, says Jordan Moore, vice president of marketing at Edge Imaging, which handled the recent shoot.

She says only 35 per cent of her Ontario school board clients booked fall sessions, with the rest undecided or postponing plans to the spring. Edge Imaging works with 93 boards — roughly 2,500 schools — across Canada, nearly all in Ontario but with some clients in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.

COVID-19 has forced obvious changes — there are no group photos and all paperwork and payments are digitized, she says.

However, physical photo proofs will still make their way home in kids’ backpacks, Moore adds: “That’s the one piece that we heard loud and clear that parents still wanted to have.”

Finding alternatives to the class photo has been tricky.

One product for sale is a fake group shot in which individual portraits are arranged digitally to appear as if students stood side-by-side.

In another pilot, detailed instructions will be sent to parents at a Niagara Region school to submit photos of their kids at home — whether they are remote or in-class learners — so the images can be combined “for a consistent look to pull students together.”

Remote learners can also get their photos taken on designated days and times at their school if their principal allows it, says Moore, or they can visit an Edge Imaging studio.

PhotoVisions School Photography Company in Ottawa has digitized proofs and ordering to limit contact and shared papers, says president Mark Oliver, whose fall business also dropped two-thirds. Photos are mailed directly to each family, and retakes are not happening.

It’s possible reshoots could happen in the New Year, “if we’re able to come back then,” says Oliver, noting yearbooks are also on hold.

“We’re on standby for whatever is necessary to be done.”

Oliver recognizes that class photos have been a relatively minor concern amid educational tumult that included new COVID-19 operational guidance, the need for additional teachers and custodial staff, last-minute funding decisions, and political squabbling.

“Definitely not in the Top 10 issues that the administrators have on their mind,” he chuckles.

Back at St. Barnabas, a Grade 1/2 teacher with a jug of sanitizer stands ready to dispense a glob into outstretched hands as each child exits the library to return to class. They take their place at individual desks fitted with a transparent shield to reduce the chance of virus spread.

School principal Mark Novis says there have been no confirmed infections among 165 in-class learners. He says about 140 remote learners can have their school photo taken on a different day, and will likely be offered an image that combines their portrait with those of their in-class peers.

“We want to still send the message to our virtual learners that they’re still part of our community, and their classmates will be included with them in the composite.”

For some families, yearly school portraits are a Christmas-gift must-have and may be the only professional photo they’ll get of their children, says boutique photographer Heather Davidson-Meyn.

But the Toronto shooter says she’s turning down work to avoid possible COVID-19 exposure.

“I’ve had a few parents say, ‘Oh, you know, will you just meet me at the schoolyard?’” says Davidson-Meyn, whose studio Fun Love Photography specializes in custom family portraits.

Davidson-Meyn says she and an assistant typically shoot about 1,000 children from five different schools, but this fall only did one, and by herself — an outdoor shoot for a Montessori school of about 100 kids.

“I cordoned off my own little area so that I was protected from all the children,” she chuckles, adding she wore an assortment of goofy face coverings — a cat mask, one doughnut-themed — to get kids smiling.

She wonders how those kids and their families will look back on the fall of 2020.

“In 10, 20, 50 years, we and they are going to look back and say, ‘Oh gosh, remember 2020? Remember those couple of years where we had to wear masks to school?’” she says.

“It’s almost going to be a badge of honour for a lot of kids.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

This grizzly bear had been hanging out near Aurum Lodge and the Cline River area and was later destroyed by Fish and Wildlife, says an area resident. (Contributed photo).
Grizzly sniffing for human food west of Nordegg was destroyed last week

Lodge owner reminds campers to keep all food away from wildlife

Coal mining in Rockies. CP photo
Alberta gov’t releases preliminary results from coal mining survey

The provincial government has released the initial results from its coal policy… Continue reading

(Black Press file photo.)
Wildfire advisory is lifted for the Rocky area

The wildfire danger in the Rocky Mountain House Forest Area is now… Continue reading

House sales drop in northwestern B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward)
Central Alberta real estate continues its hot streak

793 residential units sold in central Alberta through April compared with 210 in 2020

A representative for the office of Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu says the new Red Deer drug treatment court is expected to be operational by the middle of 2022. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer drug treatment court expected to be up and running no later than mid-2022

The Government of Alberta expects the new Red Deer drug treatment court… Continue reading

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

(CPAC)
Trudeau says he knew about investigation into general overseeing vaccines weeks ago

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he learned weeks ago that… Continue reading

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States for a COVID-19 vaccine and avoid quarantine on return if they meet some straightforward conditions, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirms.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Canadians can drive to U.S. for COVID-19 vax and avoid quarantine, Ottawa confirms

TORONTO — Canadian residents are allowed to head to the United States… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Quebec can modify part of the Canadian Constitution unilaterally: Trudeau

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Quebec can unilaterally modify part… Continue reading

In this Thursday, April 29, 2021, file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, West Germany. Canadian environmentalists are welcoming a report from the International Energy Agency that says new fossil fuel investment must end if the world is to meet its climate goals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Martin Meissner
Canadian environmentalists happy with International Energy Agency report

Environmentalists say a report from the International Energy Agency that concludes investment… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Ceasefire needed in Israeli-Palestinian conflict to avoid loss of more civilians: PM

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is calling for a… Continue reading

A forest fire burns late into the evening northeast of Prince Albert, Sask., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
Saskatchewan wildfire grows, forcing evacuations in the area to expand

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — Dry conditions and strong winds caused a large… Continue reading

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Tam hopeful for summer even as Canada hits grim death milestone in COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA — Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says she expects… Continue reading

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

Most Read