Although some questions remain over how students will return to School District 73 schools next week, much of the coming school year will be the same as when kids left school last spring.
School District 73 has completed its communicable disease prevention plan, which was developed based on guidelines released by the provincial government and the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Those guidelines stipulate that masks be worn by all kindergarten to Grade 12 staff, Grade 4 to Grade 12 students and by all visitors.
Some mask exemptions will be made, including for behavioural reasons, identity reasons, when playing a wind instrument, when engaging in high-intensity physical activity and when eating or drinking.
The new guidelines also continue the use of daily health checks, which students, visitors and staff must pass to enter a school. Parents are responsible for completing the checks.
SD73 superintendent Rhonda Nixon said the district has retained the additional cleaning staff brought on during the first year of the pandemic.
Those cleaners, the equivalent of approximately 17 full-time staff, were accounted for in the budget for the 2021-2022 school year, which was approved in late April.
Nixon also said schools will endeavour to avoid crowded hallways and that ventilation has been designed to industry standards set by WorkSafeBC.
One significant change since last year is the shift away from the cohort and quarter system.
At Monday night’s SD73 board meeting, Nixon confirmed the district will move back to its semester system.
The quarter system had been used as part of maintaining learning groups, or cohorts, and district staff said the Ministry of Education signalled in May that the system would not be used in the 2021-2022 school year.
It’s also not yet clear exactly how notification of new cases or exposure events will work in the new school year.
On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said single exposures at schools will no longer warrant notifications.
“It will be slightly different this year because the risk is different,” she said.
Henry said assessments will be done and, as with any communicable disease, every individual who was put at risk will be notified.
“The majority of people felt school-based letters were more anxiety-provoking than helpful, but we absolutely will be keeping schools informed, working with our school response teams to make sure that every single case in school settings is identified and contacts are managed, and yes, every cluster or outbreak will be reported,” Henry said.
That system differs from the exposure-based reporting that was in place last year, which identified, by school, each day where an exposure incident occurred.
This year, Henry said, only clusters (a loosely defined term) and outbreaks will be reported.
Last year, Kamloops-based medical health officer Dr. Carol Fenton defined clusters as something between an outbreak and an exposure where additional resources are needed, but not to the extent of an outbreak.
The district’s communicable disease plan can be found under the “Parents and Students” tab on the SD73 website at sd73.bc.ca.