t’s been a couple weeks now since the school year started with guidance on how schools in the province should be fighting the spread of COVID-19. Picking up with the same restrictions put in place following spring break last year, schools are required to have communicable disease plans in place, but many of the original restrictions are a thing of the past.
“Measures for protecting students and families include staying up to date with all your vaccines, practising health awareness, and staying home when sick, including if you have a fever, cough, rash, diarrhea or vomiting,” was the message from the government in August, just before schools reopened. A far cry from the original return to schools, when students were in small cohort groups and required to wear masks.
Educators are saying now that the current model is effective, and likely to be the standard going forward. Superintendent of Schools for School District 84 Lawrence Tarasoff says that it’s more akin to prevention measures than restrictions.
“Masks are a personal choice, and we don't have the space between the desks, we don't have any kind of cohorting,” said Tarasoff. “All that stuff is not part of the program now. We’re really just trying to be respectful that if people are choosing to wear or not wear masks, that’s a personal choice. In terms of ventilation, we've got [MERV] air filter systems in all of our schools.”
Precautions are in place should another serious wave of COVID-19 arise, but for the time being the current guidance is to remain in place.
“We have the experience from the past,” explained Tarasoff. “We don't make up our own rules through the school district. We wait and take our guidance from Public Health and the Ministry of Education. But if those restrictions do come back into place, we would be able to take care of those things quite quickly. We've got a supply of masks and cleaning products, we have our plexiglass shields. They’re not up right now, but we’re prepared in case we have to do that.”
Tarasoff also acknowledges that a large percentage of students at his schools are First Nations, and respects the autonomy of those communities within those schools.
Tarasoff says that morale is significantly higher amongst both the children and the staff than it had been.
“I was just in our Gold River schools today actually, and it was really good. I think people are glad to be back to a sense of normalcy around life. As much as kids like a day off now and then, by and large I think kids like to be at school. Lots of smiling faces,” he said. “It’s been a tough couple of years, but hopefully things get even more normal going forward.”
Last year did see a surge in cases as people began spending more time inside as temperatures cooled off, but officials say that with the further increase in vaccination rates among other prevention tactics taking place, province-wide mandates are set to be a last resort.