With COVID-19 confirmed at several North Okanagan-Shuswap schools, superintendent Peter Jory is asking staff, and school communities, to buckle down on the good behaviours taught early on in the pandemic.
Since mid-December, School District 83 has responded to cases of the virus at schools in Ranchero, Sicamous and Enderby. Over the past week, the virus was detected among Salmon ARm school communities at South Canoe Elementary, Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus, Bastion Elementary, Salmon Arm West Elementary School and Shuswap Middle School.
The number of cases at South Canoe Elementary prompted the school district to close the building until the end of January and move students to online learning.
This is the first time the virus has forced the closure of a school in SD83 since the province shut down schools in spring 2020. Jory noted the situation at South Canoe seemed to be easing on Thursday, Jan. 14, but quickly changed the following day when more people tested positive for the virus.
“We were a little surprised Friday to get the news… and also that we were not able to have a full roster at the school between regular staff and replacement,” said Jory. “Some of us from the central office went there to help out and then, over the course of the day, we of course learned about other exposures, and there was more through the weekend, and it looks like shutting down temporarily and going on line has been a very good decision.”
Jory explained the closure of schools in the spring provided many valuable lessons for the school district and the ministry of education. One of those lessons involved the impact on students and families.
“If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t have closed – It was premature,” said Jory, explaining that in addition to the loss of learning in classroom settings, closing schools has a significant impact on mental health.
“So as much as it’s safer, there’s quite a significant cost to it, and I can tell you the provincial government is very reluctant to go there again.
“That being said, when we have our short term transitions to online learning, we’re much better prepared for those.”
While the school district has already bumped up its cleaning protocols, those facilities where cases have been confirmed are receiving additional attention.
“I think we’re still spending $25,000 a week more in custodial than we did prior to the pandemic, and that’s a significant difference,” said Jory. “And our protocols for the most part have been followed quite closely.”
In addition, Jory said he’s asked school district staff to be extra vigilant about washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. He asked the broader community do the same.
“When you have a pandemic, and it’s happening in other places… but not here, it’s probably normal to relax a little bit and that’s just human nature,” said Jory. “For nine months it really was elsewhere, but now it’s here and so it’s very important for people to remember those good behaviours, those good habits.”
Jory also stressed the importance of timely transparency, and getting information out to staff and the public as quickly as possible.