Harry Dhillon, superintendent for School District 42, sent a statement to parents about new COVID-19 procedures in schools this year. (SD42/Special to The News)

Harry Dhillon, superintendent for School District 42, sent a statement to parents about new COVID-19 procedures in schools this year. (SD42/Special to The News)

Going back to school in the pandemic’s fourth wave

‘It’s a different COVID than last year,’ says Maple Ridge teachers union rep

The fourth wave of COVID-19 is breaking on B.C. just as school goes back into session, and teachers who had been hoping for a return to normalcy are again apprehensive.

“Only a few weeks ago, the landscape looked a lot different than it does today,” said Trevor Takasaki, the president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, referring to the sudden spike in case counts.

“The majority of teachers having vaccinations has taken the edge off,” he added. “But there is ongoing concern with the variant, and its impact on younger kids.”

Under new COVID-19 guidelines announced in late August, masks will be required for all staff, visitors and students in Grades 4-12 in all indoor areas of the school and on buses.

Takasaki said teachers will be encouraging parents of those students for whom masks are optional – those in kindergarten to Grade 3 – to also mask up. He said their motivation is to keep the younger students safe, as the new Delta variant has increased the number of cases among children in the U.S. BC Children’s Hospital said Wednesday it is still unclear whether Delta is more severe for children.

READ ALSO: B.C. Children’s Hospital says COVID-19 hospitalizations for children remain low

“It’s a different COVID than last year,” Takasaki said. “They (parents) have to be aware that masks are primarily to keep their kids safe.”

Tania Sargent, elected chair of the district parent advisory council (DPAC) in June, said parents are hoping for a more typical school year.

“We are looking forward to the schools reopening and are cautiously optimistic about the plans put in place,” she told The News.

“We hope that once schools are open and children are back learning, socializing and enjoying all our schools have to offer, our parents will be assured that their children are safe.”

“We continue to rely on direction from the health authorities, and look forward to any additional measures that may be put into place, and that parents should know that circumstances may evolve and we may all need to adapt as best we are able. We appreciate that parents may have concerns and encourage them to communicate those concerns directly to their principals.”

A letter sent Friday from district superintendent Harry Dhillon to parents updated the school COVID-19 guidelines.

Dhillon noted the district is returning to regular in-classroom instruction, and the remote learning options of last year will not be offered. There are other programming options for parents, including Connected Learning Community for Grades 10-12, and combined home and school learning through the Odyssey program.

Dhillon’s letter noted:

• Cohort learning groups are gone.

• Physical distancing is no longer a strict two meters, but schools will “use strategies to help with respecting personal space,” including taking classes outdoors when appropriate.

• Daily health checks are required.

• Hand hygiene will continue to be an emphasis.

• Cleaning will take place at least once per day for frequently touched surfaces.

• Vaccinations are strongly encouraged for all students 12-plus.

• Visitors to schools will be managed and documented.

READ ALSO: B.C. in COVID-19 ‘pandemic of unvaccinated,’ latest data shows

Takasaki noted health measures can be taken on a regional basis this year, as opposed to province-wide edicts of the last school year, so Fraser Health will be able to take targeted responses. The guidelines in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district will be different from those elsewhere in the province. It’s an approach that should allow for more appropriate local responses, he said.

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