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SD62: low attendance following COVID exposures, fully remote Ed Policy meeting

Parents or families with concerns about the COVID situation can email to SD62 at info@sd62.bc.ca .

Wednesday April 7, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated at 1:35 pm April 7 with COVID exposure dates]

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

“The pandemic continues to evolve for us,” said SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson at last night’s SD62 (Sooke School District 62) Education Policy Committee Meeting. This was the first Ed Policy meeting held entirely remotely online (with no committee members together in one room), due to the uptick in COVID conditions, said Stinson.

SD62’s top administrator is optimistic about the vaccine. Indeed, without immunization made possible by science there is pretty much no way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health worldwide has marveled at how quickly vaccines have been developed and brought to market. A saving grace in this pandemic that has passed the one-year mark.

SD62 Superintendent, Scott Stinson
SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson at the January 5, 2021 Education Policy Committee meeting. [file screenshot]

We’re now on day 386 of the pandemic in BC — the pandemic was officially declared on March 17, 2020 in this province (after being declared by the World Health Organization the week before on March 11, 2020). The first vaccines (Pfizer type) were made available in December 2020. That’s a remarkable pace of achievement in the history of pharmaceutical development, underpinned with government financial support — there’s nothing like a crisis of massive proportion to speed something along.

COVID in the scope of SD62:

Back to SD62 on the west shore of Vancouver Island. While called the Sooke School District actually serves a wide sweeping area of the west shore of Vancouver Island, with over 11,000 students attending schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke from a geographical footprint that also includes Highlands, Metchosin, parts of View Royal, the East Sooke area of Juan de Fuca, and the vast stretch west of Sooke out to Port Renfrew.

So far all the COVID-19 school exposures as reported by Island Health have been in the more densely populated areas — in the Langford and Colwood schools. Sooke is semi-rural, and Metchosin as well as East Sooke, and west of Sooke to Port Renfrew are entirely rural. The COVID-19 virus needs human hosts, between which it transmits.

The mandate of full-time use of face masks in schools by students in Grades 4 to 12 (announced by Dr Henry on March 29), is aimed at helping to prevent the spread. Stinson mentioned that as well last night, with possibly a slight indication of deepening worry about the overall pandemic which has coloured all of this 2020-2021 academic year (and the last chunk of the 2019-2020 academic year including the entire loss of the normal grad season in June).

Exposures in schools:

Exposures at two schools in the past week — Belmont Secondary School in Langford (March 31 and April 1) and Dunsmuir Middle School in Colwood (March 29, 30, 31 & April 1) — has for Stinson been “a whirlwind of the past week and a bit”.

Belmont Secondary, COVID
COVID exposures at Belmont Secondary School in Langford [Island Health – April 7, 2021]

Dunsmuir had about one-third of its population absent this week. Yesterday Belmont had about 20% to 25% of its population away. Naturally an exposure event spooks parents, so it was no surprise that “attendance was low in those two schools” yesterday. Though Stinson did say that the “self isolating number is minimal compared to other school districts”.

dunsmuir middle school, Colwood
COVID exposures at Dunsmuir Middle School in Colwood [Island Health – April 7, 2021]
Jim Lamond, Principal, Bemont Secondary School
Belmont Secondary School Principal Jim Lamond out front of the school at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, hopeful about COVID protocols and class size cohorts. [Photo by Mary Brooke, Island Social Trends, Sept 9, 2020]

“Moving forward, we expect the number of absences to decrease at people’s anxieties lessen,” it was stated today by the school district’s Media Relations rep, Lindsay Vogan.

More COVID exposures were expected in schools following the spring break period in March and then the Easter long weekend at the beginning of April, even as stated by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry yesterday.

In SD62, Superintendent Stinson commended the “good work by families, keeping kids home when sick”, but reminds parents that a daily health check is required for each child before they head to school. [BC Ministry of Education COVID19 safe school guidelines]

In total, SD62 has seen COVID exposures at five schools during the pandemic so far: Lakewood Elementary in Langford, as well as Royal Bay Secondary and David Cameron Elementary in Colwood.

Last night Superintendent Stinson said that if parents or families have concerns about the COVID situation they can email to the main SD62 office at info@sd62.bc.ca or to him directly at sstinson@sd62.bc.ca .

Schools are a safe controlled environment:

COVID numbers tend to go up when children are not in school, said Dr Henry yesterday. Throughout this pandemic she has defended her stance that schools are “a controlled environment”, compared to general community contact.

Primarily that has to do with knowing who is in contact with who (teachers, students and staff). But when children have ‘unstructured time’, that’s when the potential exposure to COVID infection increases, Dr Henry lightly explored yesterday in her public remarks.

Dr Bonnie Henry
BC Provincial Health Officer during April 6, 2021 media availability about COVID-19: variants of concern are on the rise.

In recent days on Twitter there has been public discourse about perhaps now being the time to offer immunization to all teachers. In that way, there would be reduced possibility of infection or spread not only for the teachers but also the students and staff around them, and all of the families connected to them.

Managing schools in Stages:

“Parents tend to keep their children home for a time” after this happens, said Stinson. If there is a shift back to Stage 3 or 4 (more students doing remote learning at home), that would be up to the Ministry of Education, he said.

K-12, stages, pandemic
The BC Ministry of Education has a 5-stage framework for school districts to follow during the COVID pandemic, as part of the Ministry’s “expectations of schools“. [April 2021]

BC schools have been in Stage 2 of the COVID pandemic response plan since September 2020. There are expectations of the schools to deliver education consistently during the pandemic. The focus for the K-12 sector is to maximize in-school attendance while ensuring health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission are in place. Schools are to provide a 100% instruction split between in-class and self-directed/remote learning as required for each specific stage.

AstraZeneca wrench in the works:

SD62 Superintendent Stinson noted in his remarks to the committee right at the beginning of the meeting that was livestreamed starting at 6 pm last night, that the federal government “paused” on AstraZeneca while more investigation is being done.

Health Minister Adrian Dix
Health Minister Adrian Dix during April 6, 2021 media availability about COVID-19.

In BC, AstraZeneca is fundamental and integral to the workplace-related and front-line essential worker rollout of vaccines; yesterday Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry somewhat apologized to British Columbians in her media session at 3 pm, promising that that immunization track (running in parallel to the age-based track) would be back on board once the AstraZeneca product is considered once again safe for people under age 55. (Immunization with AstraZeneca continues to be made available in BC for people ages 55 to 65, for the time being).

A major stride forward with BC’s immunization rollout was seen in the launch of the “Get Vaccinated” portal online (supported with a phone line option and even a walk-in option at Service BC offices). As noted by BC Health Minister Adrian Dix yesterday, in just its first day, by 7 pm there had been 255,870 registrations and 35,268 appointment bookings across BC through the Get Vaccinated program. No doubt the attentiveness of people to get vaccinated is driven by the increasing prevalence of COVID variants of concern in BC in recent days and weeks.

SD62 Education Policy Committee:

SD62, education policy committee, March 2021
SD62 Education Policy Committee Meeting on March 2, 2021 was held with several participants in the SD62 board room. The April 6 meeting was not held from the board room, but entirely remotely, as an additional precaution during COVID.

Last night’s Education Policy Committee meeting ran long. This was the second Ed Policy meeting newly chaired by Trustee Allison Watson.

She noted that there were no BAA (Board/Authority Authorized Course) approvals on the agenda that evening — which is usually the top agenda item, as SD62 prides itself on continually introducing new and innovative components to the overall curriculum.

Allison Watson, SD62 Trustee
Trustee Allison Watson chairs the Education Policy Committee [April 6, 2021 IST screenshot]

SD62 Associate Superintendent Stephanie Hedley-Smith gave a presentation on field trip policy which will continue to be fine-tuned — in particular regarding aspects related to international travel which of course (due to the pandemic) won’t be happening any time soon.

Interesting tidbits come up at committee meetings, like this salient statement by Superintendent Scott Stinson: “Policy belongs to the board while administration — implementation of the board’s vision — belongs to staff, so to speak,” he said as a way to keep discussion on the right track.

The other trustees in brief virtual attendance last night were long-time trustees Bob Phillips and Dianna Seaton.

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Mary Brooke, editor, West Shore Voice News
Mary P Brooke, Editor and Publisher, Island Social Trends

Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been following the news of SD62 in Sooke and the west shore up close at the board and committee level since 2014.