As you know, the return to school for students in K-12 after winter break was phased in to give school communities time to implement updated safety guidelines and for staff to plan for potential disruption to in-school learning. I am writing to share with you our contingency planning to ensure continuity of learning in the event of a functional school closure due to staff shortages, and to provide you with information about some of the enhanced health and safety measures that are being implemented in schools across the district.
Continuity of learning
The highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant is having an impact on staffing levels in all sectors. As schools reflect what is happening in the community, we expect that there will be staffing challenges in our school district over the coming weeks. While every effort will be made to deploy all available resources to cover staff absences, there does exist the possibility that at some point we will experience a functional closure of a school. Functional closure is determined by the school district when there is a lack of staff to provide the required level of teaching, supervision, support and/or custodial services to ensure the health and safety of students.
This week, school staff are engaged in proactive planning to support temporary transition to on-line/remote learning in the event of a functional closure or a closure determined by the Medical Health Officer. The need for a temporary functional closure would be communicated to you directly through the Parent Portal the same day (day 1) we determine that staffing levels are insufficient. We will request at the time that you keep your child home the next day (day 2) so that staff can prepare to switch to online/remote learning. On day 3, online learning would begin and continue over 7 calendar days, after which staff absence levels would be reviewed for an anticipated return to in-school learning. Your child’s school would provide you with more detailed information should a functional closure be necessary.
Enhanced health and safety measures
School districts have also been asked to implement enhanced safety plans to support the safe continuation of in-class learning for all students starting January 10. We have reviewed all enhanced measures with staff, who will review them with students next week. The updated COVID-19 Communicable Disease Prevention Plan for our school district is available on the school district website with all changes/additions highlighted in yellow.
Key changes include the following:
- Implementation of strategies to prevent crowding: schools have implemented temporary measures to reduce crowding at pick-up/drop-off times and during break transitions. Additionally, rooms have been reconfigured to allow as much space as possible between people. Visual prompts such as floor decals and posters will once again be used. School gatherings and events will be held virtually. Where in-person attendance is unavoidable, the number of attendees must be limited to 50% operating capacity.
- Visitor access: schools will once again be limiting visitors to those who offer services that directly benefit students, such as teacher candidates or those helping with meal programs. School access for parents/guardians will be by appointment only and no spectators or visitors will be permitted for school events (e.g. theatre, band, choir, or sports events).
- Sports tournaments paused: sports tournaments that are a single or multi-day gathering of three or more sports teams who come together outside regular league play for the purpose of teams playing against multiple other teams have been temporarily paused.
Schools will also continue to reinforce important existing measures such as regular and proper hand hygiene, wearing masks in accordance with the Provincial Health Officer Order on Face Coverings, and daily health checks. Please ensure you conduct a daily health check with your child before sending them to school. Do not send your child to school if they do not pass the daily health check or if they are ill with a cold or flu.
Finally, while the enhanced measures provide additional layers of protection, vaccines continue to be the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 within K-12 settings. Everyone eligible is strongly encouraged to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Your child’s school will be sending you a letter welcoming your child back from winter break tomorrow and will communicate at that time any important enhanced measures or procedures that are specific to the school. Additionally, we are anticipating an update for families from Fraser Health tomorrow (Friday, January 7), and will share that letter with you as soon as we receive it.
With gratitude for your continued support,
Superintendent of Schools