School District 69 (Qualicum) sign at 100 Jensen Ave. in Parksville. (PQB News file photo)

School District 69 (Qualicum) sign at 100 Jensen Ave. in Parksville. (PQB News file photo)

COVID-19: Qualicum school district plans safety protocols for full return of students

Preparation includes mitigating transmission and allowing for safe distancing

With the staggered return of students to in-person class on Tuesday, Jan. 4, School District 69 (Qualicum) saw slightly more than 200 youngsters in attendance during the first week of January.

On Wednesday, Dec. 29, the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced children of essential workers would be allowed entrance to schools while the remaining K-12 students were to head back on Monday, Jan. 10. Peter Jory, superintendent for SD69, confirmed approximately 200 of 4,300 in-person students returned for the week, while approximately 200 more students remained in online classes.

“We weren’t interested in turning people away if they needed us,” said Jory. “And so it just came down to people determining whether or not they felt they met the criteria. Or, if they were in a situation where they were really going to struggle without having our help.”

Since there was not regular instruction, those students that did return were kept engaged in various activities, including playing outside and in gymnasiums, while teachers met periodically throughout the week and prepared for the full return.

In that preparation, health and safety committees met with staff and principals.

“That’s really what the safety protocols are about,” Jory said, adding the bulk of the meetings were to deliberate how to limit the risk of transmission as much as possible.

READ MORE: Staggered restart for PQB schools in 2022 sees children of essential workers return first

Another consideration was to prepare for a possible decrease in attendance, of both students and staff, once classes were in full swing.

Jory said the district may have to enforce a functional closure, be it for a part of a building, an entire building, or for a series buildings, should a significant number of staff become unavailable or fail health checks.

“Any number of people in the system who fall ill at the same without replacements could cause us to go in that direction,” he said.

The decision for a functional closure, however, would be determined with full communication to parents and guardians, while each school would be working within their own safety protocols.

“We’re going to need to be flexible and deal with whatever kinds of phases of illness and absenteeism as they come up. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We could have a pretty good run of it over the next few months and not have a lot of absenteeism. Or, we could have spikes in certain communities and have to respond locally to those,” said Jory.

“If something broadly changes with the infection rate, VIHA (Vancouver Island Health Authority) might decide to close certain buildings down or do something broader in response to that. But as far as closing because of illness, that’s their decision to make.”

As of Friday, Jan. 7, SD69 is still expecting the full return of students to schools on Jan. 10.

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