North Okanagan-Shuswap school trustees were cautioned a need may arise to move some schools to online learning due to the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
In her report at the Jan. 18 school board meeting, School District 83 superintendent Donna Kriger said the school district itself was cautioned by the ministries of health and education that, “based on transmissibility, we probably can expect that we are going to have to move, at some point, some of our schools to online learning…”
“Based on the number of cases we’re likely to see, a bit of a surge, that could be everyone’s possibility across the province,” said Kriger, who later referred to the functional closure of Armstrong Elementary School (AES) that began on Jan. 14 and was last extended to Jan. 21. The closure was in response to a staffing shortage at the school, as three staff members had tested positive for COVID-19.
Prior to the initial functional closure announcement at AES on Jan. 13, the North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association told the Observer four teachers at the school had signed a refusal for unsafe work claim through WorkSafeBC due to the high number of students with exemptions to the Provincial Health Order requiring the wearing of masks.
“We, as you know, had to declare a functional closure at Armstrong,” said Kriger. “What I will identify for the trustees is there really are three kinds of closures we can declare. One is a functional closure based on the staffing shortages. A second one would be a closure deemed by Interior Health, in our case based on student illness and attendance rates. And lastly, we have the ability to suspend transportation in the event we can’t produce adequate transportation.”
With the possibility of having to move schools online, Kriger explained a continuity of learning plan was developed. According to the school district, the plan outlines the “curricular priorities, expectations for supporting teachers teaching on call , how to support students with multi-day absences, and direction for students with diverse abilities as well as supporting Indigenous students.”
AES is expected to provide an update to parents on Friday, Jan. 21 regarding the situation at the school. Kriger praised the leadership of AES principal Corrinne Langston who she said is doing a “tremendous job managing a very, very difficult situation.” Later, Kriger offered similar praise for all school district staff, who she called “heroes.”
“It’s difficult to know the decisions that get made create hardship for families and those decisions are never ever easy. They just aren’t,” Kriger told the board. “I want to thank you for the support you continue to provide myself and the team around me, but I also want families to know that this is hard.”
“This is going to get better, this is going to go away. And when it does, I want nothing more for us than to have relationships strengthened through this time and not fractured.”
After her report, Kriger was asked if partial functional closures are an option. At this point, she replied, all options need to be considered. However, she didn’t want to get into a situation where teachers are conducting in-person learning and remote-learning classes simultaneously.
“However, the idea that maybe we can alter timetables and have some students in on maybe even alternating days – I think at this point my answer would be, we need to look at all and every option possible to be able to keep kids in schools,” said Kriger.
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