As we prepare for your child(ren)’s return to school on January 10th, I want to express my sincere appreciation to you for your patience and understanding regarding some of the adjustments made based on the Addendums to the Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 Settings and Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools.
In accordance with the advice and direction from the Provincial Health Officer, masks remain an integral part of the safety protocol for COVID-19. Based on the direction of the Deputy Minister, SD83 will ensure that we have sufficient supplies of appropriate 3ply disposable masks for students. The safety of your children is a key priority for us. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 infections within our schools and adjust our plans accordingly. We are asking that you continue to monitor your children for symptoms each day. If your child(ren) is/are ill, please keep them at home. Principals have been directed to send children home who symptomatic or ill.
A very small number of masking exemptions apply according to the Public Health Order dated December 3, 2021 relative to face coverings. These exemptions include: psychological, behavioural or health conditions, and physical, cognitive, and mental impairment. We are asking that parents of children who fall into one of these categories to complete a district exemption form and discuss this with the principal of their child’s school. As part of the exemption process, there will be a requirement to discuss reasonable accommodations that can be made when a child is unable to wear a mask. These accommodations are student specific and will be determined based on the reason for the exemption. Strategies will be reinforced to ensure the safety of all children and staff. In rare circumstances there may not be a possible accommodation due to severe conditions or impairment.
The exemption form will be available from the principal of your child(ren)’s school. I wish to remind any parents who have previously declared their children “exempt” that they will also need to complete the form so that the accommodation strategies can be established for return to school on January 10, 2022. As a reminder, masking remains a requirement for students travelling on SD83 buses.
Thank you for your commitment to helping reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 within our school populations. I am hopeful that if we all do our part, we will be successful at keeping our schools open for in person learning.
I understand that we are all tired of COVID-19. The teaching staff and support staff across the district have been nothing short of heroic through these times. They have gone above and beyond to maintain a
sense of calm within our schools and on our buses. I know they have placed the safety and well-being of students above their own. I am asking you as parents/caregivers/guardians to “please” consider the safety of our staff so that we can keep schools open for all children. I have great faith that even through difficult times we can continue to demonstrate care and respect for one another. I am hopeful that now more than ever, we will return to those core values and extend them to those who serve our children.
Thank you again for your understanding and cooperation. I know there are better days coming!
Superintendent of Schools
School District No. 83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap)
SD83 Superintendent of Schools Donna Kriger hopes people have it in their hearts to put differences aside and work together to help keep schools open during this time of skyrocketing cases of COVID-19.
“I hope everyone can work towards the goal of keeping schools open for our kids,” added Kriger. “I know people are experiencing COVID-fatigue, I know people have varying opinions around COVID, vaccinations, and masking. But, I also know people love their kids. Going to school, and in-person instruction, are very important for our kids’ mental and physical well-being.”
When the region’s lower than provincial average vaccination rates, lower rates of masking, and SD83’s limited numbers of on-call staff, are coupled with the increase in cases across the province, there is the potential for severe staff shortages which could lead to functional school closures. Kriger and the team want to get ahead of this by appealing to parents to help support measures to keep schools open.
Kriger points out in her letter that what we know about the Omicron variant is that it is highly transmissible and has a much lower incubation period. “When I reflect about whether there is a better or more effective way of keeping our schools open for in-person instruction, I continue to come back to reducing the chances of transmission within our schools. One of the easiest ways of accomplishing this is resorting to what we learned as kids, that being proper hand hygiene. As a parent I also taught my kids to respect others by covering their nose or mouth when they were coughing or sneezing. It seems simple but we all know how those sneezes and coughs can slip out before we know it.”
“Procedural, surgical, and medical grade masks have proven to be effective in reducing the transmission of viruses. Knowing that Omicron is highly contagious, my reflection also leads me to consider how masking has been approached and if there is a more effective way of doing it in the future. Beginning January 4th, our district will be working to procure a limited supply of N95 masks for staff. In addition to this, we will be sending additional procedural masks to schools for students to use in place of their cloth masks.”
Procedural masks are breathable disposable masks designed for one-time use typically in medical environments. They are used to protect both those wearing them and those around them from the transfer of respiratory droplets by coughing, sneezing or talking.
Kriger adds schools will continue following their safety plans and safety measures including hand hygiene, physical distancing, and increased ventilation. “Our Board of Education of School District No. 83 is committed to ensuring all of our students, staff and schools are safe.”
Amended Public Health Guidance for Schools
Dear families and staff of SD 83,
On December 29th, 2021 the Provincial Health Officer amended the provincial health orders and guidelines in response to the Omicron variant which is causing an increased number of COVID-19 cases in our province COVID-19 safe schools – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca). A significant addition to the public health order has the majority of students returning to school on January 10, 2022.
The following students are invited to attend school as of January 4, 2022:
- Children with exceptional needs (social, emotional, academic, medical), you may choose to bring your child to their school and if your child accesses district transportation, buses will run as usual. Meal programs will also be available for students who require access to them.
- If you are a parent or legal guardian who works in the healthcare system, you may choose to transport your child to their school or have your child access district transportation as school buses will run as usual.
Please reach out to your child’s school principal if you have questions regarding a January 4th start date for your child. If it is determined that your child(ren) will be returning to school next week, the school principal will invite you to complete a form for district records.
The province has determined that by phasing in the return to school, it will allow time for the district and school staff to increase safety measures that will support students and staff upon return as of January 10, 2022.
The following safety measures will be adhered to:
- Completing daily health checks;
- Staff and/or students will be required to stay home when sick;
- Wearing masks according to the public health order;
- Avoiding crowding;
- Maintaining personally respectful spaces between people.
Enhanced measures have been published and the key changes are as follows:
- Reinforcing the measures as outlined above;
- Arranging classrooms to ensure maximum space between students and staff;
- Limiting visitors to the school to those that are supporting activities that are of benefit to student learning and well-being (e.g., teacher candidates, meal program volunteers, etc);
- Reducing crowding at transition times such as staggered start/stop times, breaks, lunches;
- Holding student assemblies and staff meetings virtually rather than in person;
- In keeping with the guidelines, athletic practices are permitted;
- No spectators or audiences permitted at this time;
- Pausing school tournaments.
For more details regarding the Ministry plan, please visit COVID-19 safe schools – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca) .
On behalf of the Board of Education and the staff of SD 83, I wish to thank you for your patience and understanding as we adjust to the newly implemented provincial measures. We look forward to seeing your child(ren) return to school and experience personal growth within our district.
Donna Kriger Superintendent
A full return to school for students in kindergarten to Grade 12 will be delayed until Monday, Jan. 10, in order to give public health and B.C. schools additional time to adapt to the impacts of the Omicron variant on communities and schools, and to implement enhanced safety plans to support the continuation of in-class learning. Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education Adrian Dix, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the delay at a joint press conference on Wednesday.
During this week, schools will be open for limited numbers of students in particular need. After additional details are known, SD83 will soon be communicating out to local families how this process will work.
At the conference Dr. Bonnie Henry explained that schools have safety protocols in place that have kept students and staff in school over the past two years, but as the pandemic changes, protocols must change, too. “That is why schools will be implementing enhanced public health measures to ensure that in-person learning, that is so important for well-being and mental health, can continue.”
The delayed return is supported by an Order from the Provincial Health Officer, which applies to all public and independent schools in British Columbia. While students will return on Jan. 10, staff will return on Jan. 3 and 4. This will allow schools to implement enhanced safety measures and proactively implement continuity of learning plans.
“We know how important it is for students to return to safe, in-person learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education. “This extra time will allow the Ministry of Education and public health to better understand the impact of the Omicron variant on the education system, and school communities to prepare for students returning to class with enhanced safety measures. Safety is our top priority, and we’re going to keep working with public health to ensure the right measures continue to be in place to keep students and staff safe.”
The Ministry of Education has developed an addendum to the Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 settings based on public health’s current knowledge of the Omicron variant. The guidelines were developed in collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control, Indigenous rightsholders and education partners, including teachers, parents and school administrators. As the ministry has done throughout the pandemic, safety measures for schools will continue to be updated as needed in consultation with public health.
K-12 schools must reinforce existing safety measures, including:
- Using all available space to maximize space between people. For example, different common space, classroom and learning environment configurations (e.g., avoid face-to-face seating arrangements where possible).
- Everyone able to wear a mask
- Doing daily health checks, and staying home when sick.
K-12 public and independent schools must also implement enhanced safety measures, such as:
- Implement strategies that prevent crowding during class transition times.
- Hold school gatherings and events (e.g., assemblies, etc.) virtually. If they must be in- person, limit the number of people to no more than 50% operating capacity.
- Hold staff-only gatherings (e.g., meetings, professional development activities) virtually whenever possible.
- Limit visitors to those who are supporting activities that directly benefit student learning and well-being (e.g., teacher candidates, immunizers, meal program volunteers, etc.).
- Pause extracurricular sports tournaments.
The guidelines build on existing protocols that have succeeded in minimizing the spread of the virus in schools, such as:
- Encouraging everyone who is eligible to get fully vaccinated.
- Using available space to spread out and to respect personal space.
- Wearing masks in accordance with Provincial Health Officer Order on Face Coverings: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the- provincial-health-officer/covid-19/covid-19-pho-order-face-coverings.pdf
- Cleaning hands regularly.
- Cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces at least once a day.
As the Province awaits new rapid tests shipments from the federal government, B.C.s existing supply of rapid tests will continue to be used at schools where there has been exposure events and outbreaks. When new federal shipments of take-home rapid tests arrive in mid-January, their use will be scaled up with 500,000 tests deployed as needed to support the safe continuation of in-person learning. Transmission in B.C. schools reflects transmission in the community and schools with consistently implemented prevention measures have proven to be lower risk throughout the pandemic.
The government is committed to continuing to support safe in-person education in recognition of its positive impact on the intellectual, social and emotional development of students. Schools also provide important supports for children, such as meal programs and mental-health supports.
To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines for children: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/vaccine/children
To see the addendum to the Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/safe- caring-orderly/k-12-covid-19-health-safety-guidelines-addendum.pdf