The first in-person Central Okanagan Board of Education meeting in 18 months, the planning and facilities committee meeting, was held Sept. 1. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

COVID protection remains for Central Okanagan students

New modifications added to Central Okanagan School District communicable disease plan

Return to class for Central Okanagan students on Sept. 7, won’t look a lot different from when they left for summer vacation in June.

With some exceptions, the COVID-19 safety regulations set out by the Provincial Health Officer (PMO) and Interior Health for how schools are to operate will continue for the outset of the 2021-22 school year.

But Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, said the school district’s communicable disease plan remains a “living document” subject to change, speaking to the plan at the planning and facilities committee meeting held Sept. 1.

“It has just been two weeks since the new health and safety measures were announced so some things have not yet been confirmed and some pieces are still before the steering committee to make recommendations on how to be implemented,” Kaardal said.

He noted that individual school districts don’t set health regulations for students and staff, but follow the direction of Interior Health and the PMO.

“This is just the work we do. They set the policy and it is actualized through the direction from the ministry of education. It is important for people to understand what measures are taken through that context,” he said.

When classes resume, all Grade 4-12 students and all K-12 staff will be required to wear non-medical masks or face coverings while inside schools and on school buses. Exceptions will be granted for medical circumstances or for other “health and behavioural reasons.”

Extra-curricular activities, from sports to field trips, will be allowed, with spectator limits of 50 indoors and 100 outside for sports events.

READ MORE: Mask mandate for Central Okanagan students not surprising: superintendent

School assemblies will also be limited while outside visitors to schools will continue to be strictly limited.

Students will no longer be assigned to cohorts, deemed as not an effective public health strategy by medical health officers, while the two-metre physical distancing requirement has been changed to a less specific “maintaining distance and personal space.”

Volunteers were initially going to require vaccination passports to access school facilities. But that has been revised, now falling under existing school visitation guidelines.

Kaardal said due to privacy policies, the school district can’t directly ask volunteers if they have been vaccinated or not, something Central Okanagan Board of Education chair Moyra Baxter felt was perplexing.

“When volunteers come into our schools to help with programs we request they have a background criminal check. Everybody does that and we get that. But we can’t ask if anyone has had a vaccination? That does not make sense to me,” Baxter said.

Kaardal said other health strategies such as students and staff staying home when sick, following a daily health checklist, improved school ventilation, hand hygiene and cleaning practices all initiated last year will continue.

He reiterated that these policies helped keep COVID outbreak transmissions in schools for the 2020-21 year.

“We did not have access to vaccinations until June so those policies proved effective. Vaccines are the real game-changer for us now because they have proven to reduce against positive COVID cases,” he said, noting Centre for Disease Control statistics show unvaccinated people to be driving rising positive cases and hospitalizations.

On a positive note, Kaardal said Central Okanagan numbers appear to be on the decline after spiralling upward last month, a trend he hopes will continue as more people get vaccinated, noting the Central Okanagan still trails the Coastal and Fraser Valley health regions for vaccination rates.

“We are not through (the pandemic) yet but it may be good news if that downward trend of positive cases continues,” he added.

READ MORE: B.C. officials reveal COVID-19 safety measures for schools

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