Update: this is a post from earlier in the summer before the MoE released their guidelines. There have been newer updates since and I haven't had a chance to write about them yet.
I received a good number of very similar emails about what schools will look like in September. Here is an amalgamation of a few of my replies from mid-August:
Thank you for reaching out. As Trustees we are also trying to get this info from the province. Currently, we are expecting the province to give us clear direction on August 23rd; we are getting bits and pieces of info right now and are actively working with other districts to coordinate our opening plans. What we have so far are based on previous guidelines and, as you pointed out, it needs some updating.
Masks and mandatory vaccinations are on my personal list of questions and others have voiced more, including:
- What happens with masks during sports/PE?
- Will we have more protocols in place for elementary schools where 0% of students will be vaccinated? (probably of interest to you!)
- Will we get Ministry support for additional ventilation upgrades done, now that we understand the virus better?
- What can the Ministry and districts do for students who are immunocompromised, or have immediate family members who are?
- Timeline for receiving/giving feedback on these guidelines?
Hopefully, these will get answered by August 23rd and the district will adjust our plan with those guidelines.
One of the things we've heard so far is that the guidelines will sort of be the "minimum" across BC, with regions and maybe even districts adding on top of that as necessary. It may potentially be reassuring to you that schools have been exceedingly safe in the past; when children have become infected, overwhelmingly they are catching the virus in the community/from family members, not at school. Dr Reka Gustafson went so far as to say that schools have been the safest setting in the province, during the height of the second wave, and encouraged us to keep up with our efforts to distance and mask and so on. Based on what I've seen myself, masking and distancing rules were better followed/enforced in the Lower Mainland than elsewhere in the province (not a definitive sample size, to be sure, but other anectdata seem to corroborate this). As a mum of a 3rd and 5th grader, I'm certainly personally worried that the rules of COVID might change with variants getting introduced - but so far Dr Henry and her team has not steered us wrong, so while it's not to say we should stop being vigilant and stop fixing ventilation/distancing/staggering etc., I'm hopeful that with their guidelines we can educate children as safely as we can.
Masking seems simple but there is evidence it hampers language and emotional development. I'm from Asia - HK to be precise - and masking is one thing that I'm actually quite glad is getting normalised! But, in a school setting there may be challenges for kids who are learning interpersonal skills. I know that I have to emote more when I'm masked, to get my point across, which is a small price to pay for adults, but could be confusing for younger ones. So, there is potentially room for varying the policy in different age groups.
Thank you again for writing. I hope I've added some info that is useful to you. If you have any more questions or concerns please don't hesitate to reach out again.
One reply (to my reply) so far has indicated scepticism toward Dr Henry's ability to keep us safe; I'm not entirely sure how to respond to that yet, or if I should at all - it feels a bit beyond my area of expertise to argue the details of what should and shouldn't.