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View From SD73: Preparing for a phased return to school

Some students are able to return to school on Jan. 4: students with disabilities and diverse abilities, students whose parents work in the health-care system and students whose parents are other essential workers, as school district capacity allows
Heather Grieve column head

On Dec. 29, I participated in a meeting with B.C. school board chairs and superintendents.

We were told that a full restart of K-12 school will be delayed until Jan. 10. Following the meeting, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a phased return to school for January.

Some students are able to return to school on Tuesday, Jan. 4: students with disabilities and diverse abilities, students whose parents work in the health-care system and students whose parents are other essential workers, as school district capacity allows.

The full list is on the government's website.

We understand the purpose of the delay in school restart is to allow the district and school staff to plan for how to implement recommended enhanced safety measures.

We were also advised that the phased restart gives the province time to better assess the impacts of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and develop enhanced safety measures for a return to classrooms.  

Kamloops-Thompson school district Supt. Rhonda Nixon has met with district staff to discuss the enhanced safety measures for schools.

More information about plans for learning continuity and for enhanced safety measures will be made available soon. The uncertainty for all impacted may be difficult, but we will ensure we update our staff and community as we are apprised of any new information.

At this time, all parents can expect their children to return to school on Jan. 10. We have been informed that school sports will continue, with restrictions on spectators and no tournament play. 

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said, “As we know, the pandemic is changing, but the education system is nimble and strong. Our efforts are truly focused on minimizing disruption and absenteeism.”

Our understanding is the goal of the phased restart is to decrease the possibility of school closures in reaction to the pandemic’s evolution.

Whiteside emphasized there will not be a series of school closures as a strategy for keeping schools safe. Instead, this phased restart is “to ensure that we can keep everyone safe upon return and keep schools open.” 

Many of the current safety measures will continue, including using the daily health check, having staff and students stay home when sick, wearing masks that fit properly (this can continue to be non-medical masks), limiting time in crowded locations, proper respiratory and hand etiquette and maintaining personally respectful spaces between people.

Our staff will implement enhanced safety measures, which include arranging classrooms for maximum space between students and staff, limiting visitors to the school/worksite to those supporting activities that are of benefit to student learning and well-being (e.g., teacher candidates, meal program volunteers, etc.) and reducing crowding at transition times, such as staggered start/stop times, breaks and lunches. 

We look forward to welcoming our students and staff back to school for a vibrant new year of learning.

Heather Grieve is chair of the Kamloops-Thompson board of education. School district columns appear monthly in KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com. Grieve can be contacted via email at hgrieve@sd73.bc.ca.