‘Nervous’ parents will get answers soon— SD43 board chair

Small classes will make it easier to keep track of cohorts and prevent COVID-19 transmission when school resumes in September, board chair

What will a cohort look like and how will it work?

That’s the question on many parents’ minds as B.C. plans to re-open schools after the Labour Day long weekend.

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But for school board chair Kerri Palmer Isaak, the answers are coming and the changes they will bring to schools might not be as bad as many people fear.

“Everyone is a little bit nervous,” acknowledged Palmer Isaak, who is also the trustee representing Anmore and Belcarra.

As people plan their summer to control their bubbles, many wonder how expanding a bubble to include dozens of children of other families will impact their health as the coronavirus pandemic continues to circulate.

But Palmer Isaak said while many details are still being sorted out about back to school plans in September, bubbles of 60 for elementary schools may in fact be smaller because school class sizes are well under 30, and while the number includes teachers, support staff and administrators, in most cases classes will be operating as their own bubble, mixing with the other class only during breaks or special activities.

Class sizes in 2019, according to Ministry of Education figures
Class sizes in 2019, according to Ministry of Education figures and republished by the BCTF. - Screengrab

Larger schools will likely have different daily plans than smaller schools and high schools will operate differently than elementary and middle schools, she said.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has also put out its recommendations for schools, and what’s known now is that there will be many limits on how staff and students will interact come September.

Over the coming weeks school districts are working out details together with the Ministry of Education. Palmer Isaak said SD43 officials are discussing their plans weekly with the deputy minister of education while trustees are working together through the BC School Trustees Association to get ideas on best practices.

School district COVID-19 plans have to be presented to the ministry by Aug. 21, and then parents will be told what to expect on Aug. 26 or shortly there after.

Once families hear from their schools, they’ll have two and a half weeks to get their own plans in order as the Labour Day weekend is a week later than usual.

CONTACT TRACING KEY

Those who have questions should reach out to teachers and administrators after Aug. 26, Palmer Isaak said.

But she said many parents’ fears will likely be allayed once they hear what the plans are for their school and what accommodations have been put in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

She notes, for example, that SD43 had a lot of practice in setting up schools, hallways, entrance and exits during the trial run in June, when schools opened partially, and that schools are controlled environments unlike other settings where people might mix and social distancing is difficult.

“Schools are controlled environments. They are not the mall, they are not the bus, they are not a playground,” she said.

As for masks, SD43 is heeding Dr. Bonnie Henry’s recommendations and not making them mandatory, but will be sourcing masks from the provincial government and making them available if necessary.

Palmer Isaak agrees that a lot of issues need to be taken into consideration to ensure a safe return to school and she acknowledges there might be questions about what happens if someone tests positive in one of the cohorts.

“Contact tracing is key,” Palmer Isaak said.

But she noted that it will be up to public health officials to deal with positive cases and containing the virus.

“Public health and the health authority are going to help schools. If there is some sort of a situation, they will be helping to organize schools if there is a student that is ill or a staff person that gets sick.”

CONFIDENCE IN DR. HENRY

As families, teachers and administrators wait for more details about the September plan many will be worried about how their own lives and the lives of their loved ones will be affected. This is especially the case now as cases have been slowly ramping up as bubbles expand and people get out to parks, beaches and parties to enjoy their summer.

But Palmer Isaak isn’t as anxious as some because she is confident in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s assessment that schools can re-open safely in September and that the public is, for the most part, vigilant about keeping their bubbles small and COVID-19 at bay.

She believes with information at hand parents will be more comfortable about what school will look like in the fall.

“The more information about how it will look like for your student the more comfortable families are going to feel.”

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