While they may often differ in opinion, the North Okanagan-Shuswap teachers union and School District 83 are on the same page about the need for community buy in to help keep COVID-19 out of schools.
With the recent COVID-19 exposure alerts at five schools within the school district, the virus has been top of mind for the North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association (NOSTA) and its members.
“The teachers in general right now, with the six exposures at schools since the winter break… they’re reeling,” NOSTA president Graham Gomme said in an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 19. “This week was definitely a different tone. We had a staff meeting with all the union reps from each school last night and it was a three hour meeting, the longest meeting I’ve had in years. And there’s a number of issues but obviously covid is at the top of it.”
Gomme noted most school staff self-isolating right now are doing so out of precaution, not because they tested positive for the virus. However, with the recent exposures, he said there is particular concern now for Salmon Arm’s more populated schools, including Shuswap Middle School and the Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson campus.
“The feedback from teachers is – like most of the general public right now – they’d like to see more people take precautions,” said Gomme.
Earlier in the week, school district Superintendent Peter Jory asked that staff to double down on preventative efforts including mask wearing, sanitizing and distancing. Jory told the Observer that he’d like to see the same effort made in North Okanagan-Shuswap school communities – a request NOSTA and Gomme wholeheartedly support.
“If the community buys in, and we are following the health guidelines in the community, we will see less COVID in the schools. That’s what I understand the research to say,” said Gomme. “COVID exposures have happened in other communities and it has happening here now. The increased exposures have made teachers nervous, but if we can keep the exposures down in our community, then the students and employees will be safer in schools.”
Gomme shared a personal observation indicating residents in Salmon Arm are indeed stepping up.
“I went out to get the mail from my union office today and the number of masks being worn on the street in downtown Salmon Arm compared to a week ago is quite startling.”
Gomme also credited parents who have been keeping students showing covid, cold or flu-related symptoms home on school days.