Schools in the Kamloops Thompson School District No. 73 (SD73) have been back in session now for just over a month. However, the new school year comes with continuous safety procedures in regards to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yes, our schools are back, and there are still lots of safety plans in place,” says Barriere resident and SD73 Board of Trustees Chair Rhonda Kershaw in an interview with the Star/Journal on Oct 8, 2021. “What’s really important is students have more opportunity this year to take part in extracurricular activities than they did last year. Although they may look a little bit different, their sports activities are back. Students now have opportunities to have their full programing this year, which is really critical – students need some stability and some routine.”
She notes the key to providing those opportunities is the COVID-19 safety plans being acted upon by SD73.
“One of those plans that I think is the real key to highlight is the daily self check,” said Kershaw, “If you’re sick or not feeling well stay home for that day – and that is really the key piece. Consider that daily health check, it is the best way to not spread COVID, or to spread anything.
”There is lots of hand washing, and lots of hygiene still happening in schools. I think there was some concern that the increased janitorial that happened last year had been taken away. In our district it has not. We still have all of those daily high touch services being cleaned. We’ve maintained all of the janitorial and cleaning that we had last year.”
What if the school is notified of an exposure to the virus?
“If we have an exposure the schools are all fully disinfected that evening, and then they are safe for students to go back into in the morning. The school gets fogged from one end to the other if we have an exposure or we get an exposure notice.”
How safe are schools regarding the possibility of a COVID-19 transmission?
“There is very little evidence of transmission within schools. We know that schools are the safest place for students – absolutely!” said Kershaw, “Most transmission happens outside during other activities, during that unstructured time. That’s really key for people as well. Unfortunately, what we see in schools is directly to what we see in communities. So when there’s high numbers of cases within a community we are going to see cases in our schools. There is just no way around that. What we need to remember is that there are controls in place in schools so that there is no transmission, or limited transmission in our schools.”
The Chair stated she could not confirm this being the same in other school districts throughout the province.
Is there mandatory vaccination requirements coming for students and staff?
“There is not yet a requirement for mandatory vaccination in schools. That’s something that is very much top of mind right now, particularly with the new provincial guidelines coming out for public sector employees. But that will currently be a decision of the [SD73] Board, and we have not yet considered it. There is currently a mask mandate, unless you are seated and eating you are required to wear a mask at anytime in the building.”
How does that apply to playgrounds and outdoor activities at the school?
“Outdoor activities are not required to mask,” said Kershaw, “That may change if we saw an increase in regional cases, but at this time they are not required to mask when outside.”
Have there been cases of COVID-19 in SD73 schools?
“We’ve definitely seen cases. Without a doubt in direct relation to the cases in communities. But we manage them, and we do our best to insure student safety.”
Who notifies the parents of students in a school when there is an exposure?
“Notification is all handled by the Interior Health Authority,” said Kershaw, “If there is someone who tests positive Interior Health will go through a notification process. If there is a case in a school they will evaluate those to isolate, those that need to self monitor, and those people will all be told. Those notifications will also be posted to Interior Health’s website.”
Does the school then notify the parents, students, and staff?
“The notification comes through the school from Interior Health, and then we provide the notice from the school,” says Kershaw, “They tell us who to notify, and we make sure we do that.”
How quickly is that notification given?
“Once there is a positive test, Interior Health picks it up and they do the contact tracing, so there is a lag before notification. But I don’t know what that time frame is. To be honest, it changes from week to week.”
Area families are concerned that we may lose a school or a bus route if there is a drop in school registrations, has the chair seen an increase in students for the new school year due to the influx of families that have moved into the North Thompson Valley this year?
“I can’t comment on that as we do not have all of our final numbers yet, but we are definitely not going to lose anything. And I can add we don’t anticipate opening the Ridge [school] either, as people ask me that fairly regularly as well. Our 10 year projection is to hold that school pretty steady at what it is now.”
Kershaw adds all SD73 board meetings are streamed on Facebook as that has been, and still is, the easiest way to interact with board members and the public during the pandemic
”We haven’t started traveling out to our rural schools yet,” said the Chair, “Mostly because of the cleaning required afterwards. When we go to a school we come with an entourage of at least 25 people.
”One thing that we do know is the best way to protect those that are not able to be immunized is to get immunized ourselves if possible, and as a board we are certainly supporting immunization,” said Kershaw, “We do anticipate that we will be working with Interior Health to run some immunization clinics in our rural schools and we certainly encourage people to consider that.”
What does Kershaw see as the best way to keep COVID-19 out of our schools?
“Following all of the guidelines is the important piece – if you are not feeling well stay home!”
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