Cowichan Valley School District schools are open for all students on Jan. 10 (Citizen file)

Cowichan Valley School District schools are open for all students on Jan. 10 (Citizen file)

Cowichan Valley students back to school

Few tangible changes to school COVID safety protocols after extra week off

After an extra week off for most students, Cowichan Valley schools are back in session as of Jan. 10, with hopes of enhanced safety but little tangible change to existing COVID-19 protocols to assuage parents’ fears.

The Cowichan Valley School District says they’ll carry on with more of what they’ve been doing unless directed otherwise by the province.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been strictly following the health and safety guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education and the board has made significant investments in things like ventilation, masks for students and staff, and hand washing and hand sanitizing stations,” Cowichan Valley School District spokesperson Mike Russell said. “These methods, combined with vaccinations have shown to keep our schools very safe. We will continue to use these Health and Safety guidelines as the backbone of our plan, while also ensuring proper cleaning and disinfecting.”

The district has already increased custodial cleaning, and still requires staff and students to do a daily health check to make sure they’re well enough to attend school.

What’s more, on Jan. 7, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said a key priorty when B.C. Health officials get more rapid tests from Health Canada will be to to test school staff with symptoms after full school operation resumes.

Russell said that in terms of new safety measures, “there are plans to stagger the classes when going out to play or eat, to limit crowding in hallways,” but there’s no evidence that staggering play-times outside makes conditions safer.

Even so, Russell noted that the protocols are malleable.

“The board is continuing to use this week to plan for various circumstances over the next few months. Those plans are currently being constructed,” he said.

A release issued by board chair Candace Spilsbury said “Over the winter break, the board of education has been monitoring the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant of concern. On Wednesday, Dec. 29, the Ministry of Education and Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the staggered start to our return to school this January.

“This staggered start is providing the time for our board and schools through the district to prepare to safely welcome all students back to full face-to-face instruction on Jan. 10. Through every aspect of this pandemic we have always worked to ensure student and staff safety as we navigated the ever-changing landscape of this pandemic.”

Spilsbury also noted the “significant difference in COVID-19 cases in our district between those that are vaccinated and those that were not yet of age.

“We know that vaccinations are the best protection from a COVID-19 infection and our best guard against serious symptoms if a breakthrough case does occur. We strongly encourage vaccinations for all eligible family members, including those who are between five and 11 years of age,” she said. “Vaccinations are the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community. Thank you to those of you who have taken this important step.”

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