While COVID-19 cases surge with the Omicron variant, Nanaimo Ladysmith school district isn’t currently planning to change its learning model when classes resume in January.
The B.C. Ministry of Health announced changes to pandemic restrictions Dec. 17 as students in Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools went on their holiday break. Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo teachers’ union president, said his members are concerned and discussion between SD68 and Island Health will take place in early January. It is too soon to speculate on what to do if there is still a surge in cases, he said.
“Vaccination rates are high,” said Inscho. “We expect to have case counts that are record highs, but also vaccination that’s high and increasing, especially in school-aged children, so that’s helpful and will impact, to some extent, what additional measures may be put in place.”
Enrolment in distance learning spiked earlier in the pandemic, but Inscho said it could be difficult if the school district moves away from in-class learning again. It was easier for students at the start of September 2020 as staffing was in place, as opposed to the abrupt switch at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, he said.
“We had a huge increase in students that attended DL programs and it’s specifically intended to be online. That fits really well with some kids…” Inscho said. “There were some students where it was not the way for them to learn. It’ll be good for some and not for many, but we make the best we can. We can’t always have the ideal conditions all the time.”
Inscho said the union is largely satisfied with how the district is handling the pandemic, but said there can always be improvement, mentioning cleaning procedures.
“[We’re] recognizing that surface transmission is minimal, but there’s secondary impacts with that…” said Inscho. “Knowing that your classroom is that much cleaner is very helpful. So while it may not have a significant impact on transmission, it does have a significant impact on morale, which does help mitigate the factors of this situation that we’re working in.”
In an e-mail, Dale Burgos, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools spokesperson, said there are “no specific health and safety measures” for students returning in January beyond the measures already in place. However, he added that the district will be monitoring the situation and will adhere to B.C. Centre for Disease Control and government directives.
“This past September, we had many of our remote learning students transition back to in-class learning,” said Burgos. “Our students are very familiar with the health and safety measures. The addition of a K-12 mask mandate and the COVID-19 vaccine has resulted in less class isolations compared to last school year.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, expressed hope that school will resume operating as usual come January.
“Focusing on getting the younger kids vaccinated … and the measures that we’ve been putting in place have been working, so we need to focus on that,” said Henry at a press conference Dec. 17. “Our school team is also meeting regularly and will be looking at how do we ensure that we have everything in place that’s needed for a safe return to school in two weeks.”
As of Dec. 17, the health ministry reported Omicron variant cases had increased to 302 provincially, with 145 of those in the Island Health region. Overall, there were 789 new cases of COVID-19, with 147 new cases and 975 active cases on the Island, the ministry said.
The schools listed by Island Health that have experienced COVID-19 eposures recently are École Quarterway, Coal Tyee, Forest Park, Departure Bay and Ladysmith Primary schools.