B.C. school districts prepare for ‘functional closures,’ online classes amid COVID-19 surge

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: B.C. businesses need to plan to prepare for possible closures'
COVID-19: B.C. businesses need to plan to prepare for possible closures
At Tuesday's COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. businesses need to prepare for "as many as a third" of staff being off with COVID-19 in this latest wave of the pandemic. Because of Omicron's rate of transmission and short incubation period, she said many people will become ill and contingency plans are needed – Jan 4, 2022

With teachers and staff expected back in the classroom Tuesday, school districts are preparing for the likelihood of functional closures in the K to 12 system.

Jordan Tinney, superintendent of Surrey Schools, confirmed district staff will be working with schools to prepare for an online shift.

Click to play video: 'Calls for B.C. schools, businesses to make contingency plans as Omicron variant spreads'
Calls for B.C. schools, businesses to make contingency plans as Omicron variant spreads

“It is completely foreseeable that we are going to have situations where there is insufficient staff to provide instruction,” he said in an interview.

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“The way Omicron is going, as early as next week, the first week — we could be telling parents we don’t have enough staff to operate and we need to move entirely online.”

Widespread staff illness and an unsafe school environment due to the spread of the virus would be the only scenarios that prompt a shift to online learning, he said.

The province, meanwhile, has committed to keeping schools up and running through the latest wave of COVID-19. Last month, it pushed back of the start of the school year for most students until Jan. 10 to allow more time for health and safety planning.

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. records almost 9,500 cases over New Year’s weekend

In a Dec. 31, 2021 memo to all school staff, the Ministry of Education said the “phased return” will allow districts time to complete a workforce assessment.

“Districts are to support as many families in the first week as they can, while also ensuring that the critical preparation work can happen to support a safe return to school on January 10, 2022,” it said.

“The phased restart of school will give schools the time to develop contingency plans, including
continuity of learning, in the event of functional closures in schools.”

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Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Juggling pandemic school delay with work'
Health Matters: Juggling pandemic school delay with work

The province has already announced some enhanced safety measures for schools in the new year, including staggered start and stop times, and recess and lunch breaks.

Schools are also expected to hold school gatherings, events and staff meetings virtually.

Read more: B.C. delaying start of school until Jan. 10 for most K to 12 students

The Ministry of Education is also working with the Ministry of Health, local medical health
officers and the BC Centre for Disease Control to determine a process for communicating exposure risk.

Schools are not currently expected to send out exposure notices due to the challenge of contact tracing.

“The current procedures must be updated in response to the different characteristics of the Omicron variant,” reads the memo.

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“Updated information will be communicated to schools and districts in in the coming weeks.”

Click to play video: 'Back to school delay concerns for those with special needs and learning challenges'
Back to school delay concerns for those with special needs and learning challenges

Only a handful of schools across the province have been required to move online since June 2020.

British Columbia has been one of the few jurisdictions in North America where a majority of students have been in classrooms since September 2020.

The province did offer online learning province-wide in April and May of 2020.

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