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SD62: pandemic ‘lingers’ as student count grows

No more physical distancing, no cohorts | Now over 12,000 students

Tuesday September 7, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC [Last updated 11:15 am September 8, 2021]

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc, Editor | Island Social Trends

While it would seem that most people, businesses and communities are still actively engaging with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in their daily lives (work, school, home, community), the Sooke School District (SD62) is taking the approach of putting most of the pandemic challenges behind them.

Tonight SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson said that the school district is dealing with the “lingering effects of the pandemic”, even though the Delta variant potentially poses continued risk in the broader community (and by default in the schools).

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The SD62 Education Policy Committee met in the SD62 board room on September 7, 2021 & livestreamed the meeting. [MS Teams]

SD62 has taken the measure of “using available space to keep people spread out” even though physical distancing is no longer officially required by public health orders. SD62 will continue to use directional arrows in hallways, especially in high schools where students move frequently around the school during the day.

Cohorts (learning groups) are no longer required by public health order, and so those are no longer in place in SD62 schools.

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By public health order, masks are to be worn by kids in Grades 4 to 12. Stinson says that students in Grade 3/4 split classes will require the Grade 3 students to also wear masks.

Without going into detail, Stinson said that SD62 “continues to work on ventilation in schools”. The district used $600,000 of the one-time federal COVID support grant in 2020-2021 for ‘maximizing air flow’.

“We will continue to work through that process with our facilities department,” he told the Education Policy Committee this evening.

Last year all public health direction was taken from the Public Health Officer and her office. This year, there will be more interaction with the Island Health Authority as well.

Student population:

SD62 has schools in Langford, Colwood and Sooke, with students bussing in daily from an even broader footprint including Metchosin, East Sooke, Highlands and parts of View Royal.

SD62 presently has 26 schools (including the three Westshore Centre for Learning location). SD62 administration confirms that all those schools as well as district buildings (board office, facilities, transportation, curriculum) all have ventilation systems that are “up to industry standards or above”. When two new schools (elementary, middle) open on Constellation Avenue in the Westhills area in September 2022, that will bring the school total to 28.

Stinson reported at tonight’s Education Policy meeting that the student population has surpassed 12,000 this September, for the 2021-2022 academic year. Earlier predictions for this year fell in the range of about 11,100 students. Student population numbers are crunched by Associate Superintendent Paul Block, produced in consultation with municipalities regarding housing development in Langford, Colwood and Sooke.

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Condo living in Langford

The number of International Students in SD62 stands at 250 this year, lower than in pre-pandemic years. This is largely due to international travel and vaccination issues.

Long-time SD62 Trustee Bob Phillips asked Stinson if home-school students are “coming back”. Student numbers are “looking strong” in distance learning, said Stinson in reply.

Long-time SD62 Trustee Dianna Seaton said she “strongly feels that students should be in school, it’s the best place for them, in my opinion”.

Aspects of inclusion:

Tonight the committee also heard a presentation about the value of SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) in public schools, with Trustee Phillips pondering aloud if that helps all students feel more welcome in schools, even beyond the issues of sexuality and gender.

Associate Superintendent Stephanie Hedley-Smith is still working with a group to figure out parameters for school field trips, particularly those that require one or more years of fundraising and which travel beyond Canada. The committee discussed the income-disparity aspects of expensive international travel for school field trips. Also, due to COVID (and associated international passport considerations), there likely won’t be international field trips for a while, the committee heard.

Board & Committee Chairs:

Board Chair Ravi Parmar attended tonight’s committee meeting ex-officio. He echoed Trustee Phillips’ comments about diversity and inclusion. He expressed some concerns about field trip sponsors, that in some way that gives unfair exposure to a brand or provider.

The Education Policy Committee is chaired by Trustee Allison Watson.

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===== RELATED:

BCTF Fall 2021: wants better protections & return-to-school caution (September 6, 2021)

COVID Links & Resources (government and school links, updated regularly)

SD62 COVID information page

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Check out the new Monk Office website.