There have been no confirmed COVID cases among SD51 students since the school year got underway Sept. 10, according to Superintendent Ken Minette. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Education ministry’s COVID plan could do more for SD51, says teachers’ union president

There have been no confirmed COVID cases two weeks into school year

The head of the Boundary teachers’ union is concerned that COVID-19 guidelines recently updated by the Ministry of Education might not go far enough to protect students and staff this fall.

“There seems to be a great many more questions than there are answers,” said Boundary District Teachers’ Association president Norm Sabourin.

Boundary District Teachers’ Association president Norm Sabourin said teachers’ concerns mirror public anxieties about a second wave of the COVID pandemic. (Norm Sabourin - Facebook)

Plans on the ministry’s website show the province revised stay-at-home instructions the day after schools re-opened on Sept. 10 to highlight seven disease symptoms listed by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC). The BC CDC’s website recommended British Columbians watch out for 17 symptoms as of Sept. 24.

Parents are being asked to watch out for fewer symptoms now that recent data shows school-aged children are statistically less likely to either contract or transmit COVID-19 compared to adults, according to the ministry.

Asked how School District 51 was adjusting to the pandemic, Superintendent Ken Minette told the Gazette last week that, “All are schools are doing extremely well.”

There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Boundary schools as of Sunday, Sept. 27, added Minette.

SD51 Superintendent Ken Minette, right, said district schools have done very well since the start of the fall term. Also pictured are high school graduate Jade Dallibar, centre, and Walker Development Centre principal Shawn Lockhart. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Asked why the ministry’s COVID-screening are now less comprehensive than provincial guidelines as a whole, Minette acknowledged, “that has been a source of confusion we’ve tried to manage this week.”

“We get out information from the ministry and, at the end of the day, we have to assume they’re getting theirs from the Provincial Health Officer [Dr. Bonnie Henry], who has the best up-to-date information available.”

Sabourin stressed that SD51 has followed all ministry guidelines developed with the BC CDC, the Provincial Health Office and parents and teachers. But he suggested that it’s too soon for parents to be screening kids for fewer COVID symptoms.

Meanwhile, the BDTA president said he was convinced the ministry’s cohort model, where kids and teachers stay in separate groups during school hours, was deeply flawed from the start.

“The idea of a cohort model really doesn’t make sense,” he said.

If the Ministry of Education’s plan was to mitigate COVID transmission by hiving off students during school hours, Sabourin pointed out that some Boundary students have been spending their free time with friends across different cohorts, grade levels and schools.

Sabourin then highlighted the example of Boundary families headed by parent teachers with elementary and high school-aged children.

“They’d have four or five cohorts living under the same roof,” he said. “Do cohorts even exist?”

Superintendent Minette explained that, “there is going to be some mixing of people in different cohorts outside school hours,” adding, “that will always be always be part of the challenge.”

READ MORE: Boundary students start fall term amid pandemic

READ MORE: ‘Health first’ leads planning for SD51 fall re-opening

The district is “taking a very hands off approach” in following the Interior Health (IH) agency’s lead in monitoring and tracing any future COVID cases.

If a Boundary teacher or student tested positive for COVID-19 Minette said school administrators would give the agency enough information to speedily warn parents who need to quarantine or isolate potentially exposed children.

Minette stressed that SD51 and Interior Health would uphold the strictest confidentiality and would never release the names of infected or exposed students or staff.

Sabourin qualified that it was very important for most students to be in Boundary classrooms this fall. “And for the most part, our teachers battle through their COVID-anxieties in order to get the job done.”

Area students attend elementary schools in cohorts of up to 60 kids and staff, according to ministry guidelines. Students in Boundary high schools are in cohorts of up to 120, because the ministry determined older students are more likely to wear masks and maintain two-metres’ social distancing throughout the day.


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