About 32,000 students are expected to walk through the doors of their respective school tomorrow morning (Sept. 7) as summer comes to a close.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a cause for concern for some families as more cases appear to be on the rise in the region — 187 local health-area infections detected between Aug. 22 and 28 — but School District 43 (SD43) says its confident its safety plan is ready for the 2021-22 calendar year.
With the exception of eating and drinking, or exemption considered "special circumstances," B.C.'s education ministry has reinstated its mask mandate in schools for students in Grades Four to 12.
Masks are only being recommended as of this publication (Sept. 6) for Kindergarten to Grade Three.
Other measures included in SD43's COVID-19 safety guideline are as follows. Parents and students are set to be informed directly by their respective school administrators and teachers:
- Daily health checks for students and staff will be required before arriving at school each day and those with symptoms are expected to stay home and follow the guidance of health authorities
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols will continue based on Ministry of Education guidance
- Hand hygiene measures will continue, including frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer
- Two-metre physical distancing will not be required, but maximizing indoor ‘spacing’ and continued ‘traffic flow’ measures will be implemented to further protect students, which may include staggered start times, break times and/or assigned entry and exit doors
- Outdoor spaces will be used frequently, as weather allows
- No cohorts or learning groups will be in place, and school schedules and course offerings will mostly return to normal
- There will be no Gradual Transition option for families
- Please discuss learning options with your school principal regarding District Distributed Learning (Apex, COL) opportunities or access to the Hospital Homebound program (there are strict requirements for access to the Hospital Homebound program)
- Parents are asked to remain outside of the school building, make an appointment to visit a staff member (whenever possible) and following all entrance requirements — including completing a daily health check before arrival, signing in at the office if you are entering the building, and travelling only to the area within the school that they have been directed
In an earlier letter to parents and families, SD43 Superintendent and CEO Patricia Gartland believes the restrictions in place will be effective given the region's vaccination rate is still rising across its neighbourhoods.
As of Thursday (Sept. 2), the Tri-Cities is holding an 81% immunization average among eligible residents aged 12 years and older who've received two doses of a COVID-9 vaccine.
"Under challenging circumstances, many students experienced a successful school year as a result of the effective implementation of health protocols and support from our parent, student and staff communities," Gartland explains in her letter.
"With an ever-increasing number of people being vaccinated, we are in a much better place to start the school year. We will continue to follow the advice of experts for guidance on health and safety measures in order to maximize educational experiences and opportunities for children."
She also echoed the words of Dr. Henry in telling parents that schools are still considered to be "low-risk settings" for COVID-19 transmission.
Dr. Henry has said the rise in infections and hospitalizations are mainly among the unvaccinated and in areas of low transmission.
The province is also not mandating school staff get vaccinated, although Dr. Henry said employees are being encouraged to get their shot.
She said there has been an uptick in vaccinations among those working within the school system, adding school transmission rates do tend to mirror those transmission rates within the community.
The most recent government data on vaccination status noted between Aug. 24 and 31, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 79% of cases, and 84% of hospitalizations.
The 4,861 cases in the week ended Aug. 31 included:
- • 3,345 unvaccinated (68.8%)
- • 496 partially vaccinated (10.2%)
- • 1,020 fully vaccinated (21%)
Of the 253 hospitalizations in the two weeks ended August 31, there were:
- • 203 not vaccinated (75.7%)
- • 22 partially vaccinated (8.2%)
- • 43 fully vaccinated (16%)
Gartland said SD43 is strongly encouraging everyone that's eligible to get full vaccinated to reduce the chance of school exposures, which could lead to an increased community risk and more restrictions by local health officers.
"While we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and manage the ongoing provincial health orders and directives from the Ministry of Education, we appreciate the cooperation and assistance of families in working together to keep our schools safe. If we all do our part, we can minimize risk for our students and the community at large," she explained.
"We all understand how important it is for our children to attend school with their peers and recognize how critical this is for their personal, intellectual, and social development. We look forward to welcoming our students, families and staff to the 2021-22 school year and appreciate your patience and flexibility as we plan for a safe and successful opening!"
For more information, you're encouraged to visit the Coquitlam school district website.
- with files from Glen Korstrom, Business In Vancouver