As potential COVID-19 exposures at schools grow in B.C, including the Okanagan, health minister Adrian Dix has confirmed the province is considering extending the upcoming winter school break.
In the Central Okanagan school district, there are currently nine schools with potential exposures as well as two independent ones.
“This has been considered in other jurisdictions and it’s something that is under active consideration in British Columbia,” Dix said during a televised Global TV town hall meeting on Wednesday night.
While public health officials maintain the rate of transmission is still low within schools, keeping students at home for a little longer may help curb the spread of the virus overall, including post-holiday infections.
“We are looking at the pros and cons of which there are a myriad for both different models early on and later, and discussing it with relevant stakeholders, including in education and teachers, but also families, businesses and looking at what the options are,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said at the town hall meeting.
The province of Alberta has already announced a longer break for its students.
Pupils in Grades 7 to 12 will end in-class instruction on Nov. 30, two weeks early. Students in all grade levels will also get an additional week at the end of the break and return to class on Jan. 11.
But the president of the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association isn’t sure a longer winter break is the answer.
Susan Bauhart said she doesn’t think that will stop exposures from happening at schools.
“I’m certainly not in the medical field, but I think we have to stem and stop the exposures from coming into our schools on the outside,” Bauhart told Global News.
Bauhart said that instead of a longer break, she would rather see a reduction in class sizes to allow for better social distancing, as well as masks being worn by those who are able to in classrooms, not just common areas.
“Wearing a mask is being asked of people all across the city and businesses and stores, everywhere,” she said.
“I’m not sure why it’s not being asked in schools. So, yes, I would say that wearing a mask would go a long way to improving the situation.”
The reaction from parents across the province is mixed, but at A.S. Matheson Elementary School in Kelowna, many parents and grandparents seemed to favour a longer break.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Becky Marks, whose grandson is in Grade two.
Parent Jessica Bryde said she, too, supports a longer break.
“They shouldn’t even be in school,” she told Global News.
While some parents like April Foster expressed concern for their children falling behind, if that’s what it takes to slow down the spread of the virus, they are prepared to support the idea.
“If it helps get it caught up, you know get things under control, then I guess we just have to do what we have to do,” Foster said.
With Christmas break only about three weeks away, a decision will have to be made soon.