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Penticton high school cancels in-person afternoon classes to ‘reset’ after COVID-19 exposure

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 complacency rampant at first high school in South Okanagan to have exposure, students say' COVID-19 complacency rampant at first high school in South Okanagan to have exposure, students say
Penticton has recorded its first COVID-19 school exposure, and students say it’s a wake-up call to curb complacency. Shelby Thom reports. – Dec 2, 2020

School administrators in the South Okanagan have decided to cancel in-person afternoon instruction at a high school in Penticton, B.C., for two weeks due to additional cases of COVID-19.

A letter from the office of the superintendent on Dec. 6 informed families that afternoon classes at Princess Margaret Secondary will be moved online.

The new schedule takes effect Monday and will remain in place until winter break on Dec. 18. Busses will run at 11:30 a.m. for students.

Read more: Coronavirus: Entire class at Kelowna elementary school told to self-isolate after exposure case

“As Dr. Henry has said, it’s a marathon as we fight against COVID. We are taking a break at Maggie in the afternoons to catch our breath as a school and to reset,” superintendent Todd Manuel told Global News on Monday.

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On Dec. 1, families received a letter informing them that a member of the school community had tested positive for COVID-19, and that they were self-isolating at home.

Click to play video: '“They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School.' “They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School.
“They are not really addressing the situation at KSS as seriously as it is,” parents grow increasingly concerned as more COVID cases are announced at Kelowna Secondary School – Nov 16, 2020

Late Friday, Interior Health contacted the district to inform school officials that additional members of the school community had also tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Just under 10 per cent of the school community has been informed to self-isolate, but some parents are fearful to send their kids to school. Some 40 per cent of students were not in attendance on Friday.

Read more: Coronavirus: List of B.C. school exposures

Manuel hopes the “reset” will help reassure parents that the school is a safe place for their children.

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“Interior Health has informed the district that the majority of school exposures occur in the community, Manuel said in the letter.

He added that staffing shortages are not an issue, although there is pressure on resources when teachers and support staff are in isolation.

Click to play video: 'Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools' Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools
Central Okanagan Teacher’s Association president concerned over rising exposure cases in local schools – Nov 12, 2020

“In reviewing our two-week plan, they have asked that the district, parents, and guardians remind students that we all need to follow the current health and safety guidelines from Interior Health, and from our Public Health Officer Dr. Henry.”

Read more: Vancouver School Board taking flexible approach amid closures due to coronavirus pandemic

Interior Health also issued a letter to parents and students, stating health officials understand the situation has “triggered anxiety.”

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IH said it completed an epidemiological investigation of school cases over the weekend to analyze the overall number of cases and sources of transmission.

“Our findings confirm an extremely small number of Princess Margaret Secondary School members have contracted COVID-19,” said medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema in the statement.

“As a consequence of the potential COVID-19 exposures, a number of students and staff have been asked to self-isolate; currently less than 10 per cent of the school community.”

Read more: Coronavirus spreads among Kelowna school population, 4 more exposures announced

Mema added that transmissions occurred in social settings outside the school and the cases are a reflection of transmission rates within the community during the second wave.

“School safety plans have been effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Mema said. “Transmission of COVID-19 at this school, if any, has been minimal.”

Click to play video: 'Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic' Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic
Kelowna father argues it’s wrong for homeschooled children to risk losing their spots in schools during pandemic – Nov 11, 2020

Health and school officials will not say exactly how many cases are connected with the school, or whether the positive cases are students, staff, or administrators.

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Parents are asked to be patient as teachers organize remote learning options.

Read more: Parent concerns grow as cases of COVID-19 climb at Kelowna Secondary School

Families can anticipate communication from their afternoon block teachers by Wednesday at the latest, the district said.

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been any new exposure dates added to Giant’s Head elementary or Penticton secondary, after cases were confirmed in late November.

As of Monday morning, there were 16 active school exposure events at schools in the Central Okanagan, and three in the Vernon-area.

A full list of school exposures in IH can be found here.

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