As West Coast students poured out of school Friday to start their two-week spring break vacations, questions about when they would be returning remained up in the air in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no movement in B.C. to close schools,” School District 70 superintendent Greg Smyth told the Westerly News on Friday. “We’ll be assessing and monitoring during spring break.”
He added though that the situation is rapidly evolving and said school officials will be constantly monitoring the situation and reaching out to students and parents if any changes are announced.
“We know that we really are not on a break ourselves and we are expected to be checking for messages from the ministry on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s very fluid.”
He said students were sent home Friday with a letter from B.C.’s deputy minister of education Ian Scott laying out the measures the province is taking in response to the pandemic, including a ban on all public events of over 250 people and a voluntary self-isolation protocol that advises anyone who travels outside the country to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon their return.
“We are in a very challenging time and some of these asks may be difficult for you and your family. By taking these preventive steps together, public health officials aim to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect vulnerable people in our communities,” the letter reads, in part. “It can be reasonably expected that other measures may be introduced. We will continue to monitor the situation daily and will do our best to keep you and your family updated on developments.”
Smyth said he hopes families within the school district will rethink any travel plans in light of the epidemic.
“In some cases, some people believe it’s an invasion of privacy to ask what their plans are during spring break,” he said. “We’ve encouraged people in our system to reconsider their travel plans and that, if they are going to travel, we want them to abide by health expectations about self isolation, to call 811 if they have any symptoms and so on…We are really hoping that people will abide by that and if they do travel outside the country, that they will do that voluntary self isolation.”
Smyth said updates will be posted to www.sd70.bc.ca as soon as they come in.
The school district cancelled Ucluelet Secondary School’s planned trip to Guatemala last week over concerns of possible quarantines.
“We were advised that the Guatemalan entrance screening process may result in students being identified as symptomatic of coronavirus where it could have been a flu or a cold or whatever and, if that had been the case, those students or chaperones would have been separated from their travelling companions and isolated,” Smyth said.
“Out of a concern for what might happen to students and chaperones going to Guatemala and the potential that even the two chaperones might have been separated from the kids, we just couldn’t put students or chaperones at risk and couldn’t put that undue unexpected additional pressure on the chaperones. So, it was really unfortunate, but circumstances changed in a very short period of time and we just felt that sending the students to Guatemala at that time put their safety at risk and we weren’t going to do that.”