As schools in B.C. enter their third year dealing with COVID-19, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools will continue to take the guidance of provincial health officials.
With the first week of school under way, the school district said it will continue to take advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said Dale Burgos, district spokesperson, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin.
The public health office relaxed mask regulations for students last March and going into 2022-23, masks will again be optional for Nanaimo-Ladysmith students, although masks will still be offered.
To bolster student safety, schools’ heating-ventilation-air conditioning systems have been upgraded with filtration that captures a higher percentage of particulate matter.
“During the pandemic the school district began an upgrade program to use MERV 13 filters in all schools and [that] continues to this day,” said Burgos.
One school, Ladysmith Intermediate, had an HVAC system that didn’t allow for the upgrade, so the B.C. Ministry of Education and Child Care allocated additional funding. A portable filtration will be utilized until January, when the new mechanical system is anticipated to be installed, and Burgos said SD68’s safety and wellness team is working with all school safety committees to address any air circulation deficiencies, with air testing or changes to systems if necessary.
A Sept. 7 business committee report noted that high-touch surfaces will be disinfected and Jeff Virtanen, CUPE Local 606 (education support workers) president, said that includes light switches, water fountains and door knobs and high-traffic areas.
“High schools are [cleaned] during the day as well because there’s day-shift caretakers, but we don’t have day-shift caretakers at the elementary schools. That will be happening during the night,” he said.
Hybrid and distance learning were employed prior to COVID-19 vaccinations. In terms of this year, Burgos reiterated the district will follow the advice of regional medical health officer Dr. Sandra Allison, as well as the provincial health officer and the BCCDC. The district will monitor “any abnormally high absences in classrooms that don’t fit within the norm,” he said.
Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said he doesn’t foresee that the pandemic will cause any further cancellation of learning at bricks-and-mortar schools.
“If we were going to do that, we would’ve done that in April-May-June where we had hundreds of absences a day that were unfilled,” he said. “That was the point that we would’ve done that and we managed to get through it one way or another without going to hybrid or some other model or going online, so I don’t see us ever doing that [again] honestly. The opportunity was there potentially and it wasn’t taken. [Although] we can never predict what the next variant’s going to be.”
While Nanaimo-Ladysmith was chosen to field a COVID-19 rapid response team for Vancouver Island last year, provincial funding wasn’t provided past last June. In an e-mail, the Ministry of Education said the response teams are not part of the guidelines for K-12 settings for fall 2022. However, the ministry also said “the strong partnership between public health and K-12 continues, with many partners continuing to collaborate on supports and services for students and staff.”
According to the BCCDC, total COVID-19 case counts for the Island Health region are at 37,925, with 107 new cases and 10 deaths recorded the week of Aug. 27.