New school term delayed by week amid Omicron unknowns

Schools given extra week to plan and prepare

  • Omicron variant spreading quickly
  • Schools given prep time to reduce crowding and stagger recess
  • Time needed to plan around absenteeism and program continuity

The winter term at B.C.’s K to 12 schools will be delayed by a week for most children. That will give the education system time to plan and prepare in light of the rapidly spreading, but less severe, Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has issued a new health order that calls for a phased restart for schools over the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, B.C. reported a record 2,944 new cases of COVID-19, with 193 people in hospital and 66 in critical care. Five more people have died from the virus since Dec. 24.

There were 374 new cases in Interior Health, bringing the active cases in the region to 1,576.

Henry told a news conference, all schools will open either Jan. 3 or 4 for children of essential workers - such as healthcare workers, emergency responders and teachers - and those with special needs, with a full return for all students on Monday, Jan. 10

“This will give us time to add additional protocols to reduce crowding and stagger times for recess; those things that we did early on that we know can help reduce the potential for transmission within the settings,” said Henry.

B.C.’s top doctor said school administrators will use the phased approach to address things like making sure classes can safely be held and to address absenteeism and program continuity.

She said the measures were not a signal to move to online learning and stressed the importance of having children in classrooms.

She said the COVID-19 testing strategy will be adjusted, and public heath notifications will be modified to put in place measures that help students and parents learn how the Omicron variant is affecting schools.

“Omicron is spreading through our communities in a way that is different from other variants. People are getting infected with a much smaller dose of the virus, and much more quickly,” she explained, adding people are passing it on to others often before they realize they can pass it on. But she said the ‘encouraging trend’ seen around the world is that for most people fully vaccinated illness continues to be mild.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said while some students may be excited about an extended winter break, many families depend on schools being open and it’s critical for them to have schools running as smoothly as possible during the school year.

“By taking a few extra days now for planning and preparation, we are setting up our schools for the best possible start,” Whiteside said.

Teachers Association welcomes prep time

Speaking to Kelowna10, Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association President Susan Bauhart said she was ‘thrilled’ schools would have the extra week to prepare.

“Time is needed to get this phased restart in place,” she said. “Safety plans need to be enhanced, we need to talk about staggering lunches again and recesses, and really pushing for improved mask wearing.”

But Bauhart said it is crucial schools reopen.

“Kids need to be in schools, teachers have never felt differently about that,” she said. “The biggest thing is time [to prepare]. Schools have to prepare for huge levels of absenteeism, be it kids, teachers, support workers … but that does not diminish the fact that schools do need to be open.”

With files from Vernon Matters

Published 2021-12-29 by Glenn Hicks

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