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Comox Valley district clarifies school closure process

Recent absentee rates due to illness close to historic normal numbers
Public health officials have changed contact tracing processes for COVID. Black Press file photo

With high COVID cases over the last month or two, School District 71 has clarified its practice around high absence rates.

The district released a statement on Jan. 19 to say the recent absence rates due to illness have run between 2 and 5 per cent, or close to normal levels for this time of the school year.

“The current state is extremely challenging, and we are committed to providing the safest environment for our students and staff, but we are also prepared if schools need to close for a variety of reasons,” board of education chair Tonia Frawley said in the release.

The district is monitoring the situation and, in the event illness-related absences become 10 per cent higher than normal over historical numbers, it will send home a letter to notify families of the situation and begin work with Island Health to determine further steps.

As well, the district lists new protocols for different kinds of closures:

Health Closure

This may be determined for a school by the local health authority due to unusually high student absence rates.

Functional Closure

This is determined by the district due to a lack of staff to provide the required level of teaching, supervision, support or custodial care required for the health and safety of students, most likely due to high absenteeism of staff or certain employees required for a school to function and the inability to fill the absences.

Transportation Closure

This would occur if the bus provider indicates that due to high absenteeism, they are not able to replace drivers. Schools would remain open and operational, but students normally taking the bus would need to find their own way to and from school.

Safety Measures

As well, the district said schools are reinforcing existing safety measures: using all space to maximize space between people; using different common spaces and changing classroom and learning environment configurations where applicable; and ensuring mask compliance indoors, except for people with an exemption.

The district’s enhanced safety measures include: applying strategies to prevent crowding; holding school gatherings and events virtually, or limiting the number of people to no more than 50 per cent capacity; holding staff-only gatherings virtually; limiting visitors; and pausing extracurricular sports tournaments.

Anyone feeling unwell or experiencing any symptoms is asked not to go to school, and anyone entering a school is to have completed a daily health check.

The district has also put together a graphic explaining the closure process.

The news release notes that public health has changed the contact tracing and notification process, so schools are not sending out exposure notifications. Public health will notify individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Schools will not be receiving any information regarding individual exposure events and cannot release individual contact information for the purpose of an individual (staff, student, or parent/caregiver) seeking to notify others of their test result. As well, schools will not send notifications to others on behalf of individuals or parents/caregivers even if they have given consent to share this information.

“Our schools continue to play a critical role for children and families. We remain committed to continuing to work through these latest challenges together with public health, our students, staff and families in the Comox Valley,” the release concluded.

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