Superintendent Tom Demeo of Comox Valley Schools. File photo by Mike Chouinard

Comox Valley school officials ponder re-opening questions

Superintendent expects September will look different than most

Comox Valley schools are closed right now in response to COVID-19. That doesn’t mean nothing is happening though.

At the April 28 board meeting, held via Internet video, superintendent Tom Demeo updated trustees on a lot of the work going on behind the scenes in recent weeks while students work remotely from home.

“There are a lot of great things happening in our buildings, outside our buildings with our families, taking many shapes and forms,” he said.

He talked about not only keeping the schoolwork going but even events like birthday parades to lift students’ spirits.

“It’s really nice to see our community coming together for this,” he said.

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One role for the district has been providing child care space for children of essential service workers who cannot work from home. Demeo estimated they had about 60 spaces at four sites in the district.

“We’re getting pretty close to reaching capacity and having to look at the next level,” he said.

The district has also made devices available to help students with their schoolwork. This has included loaning about 225 laptops, with about 50 more available. Schools have also made between 75 and 100 iPads available.

Many students also rely on the schools for food, so the district has been working with LUSH Valley Food Action Society to distribute hampers each week to families in need. There about 250 families receiving hampers.

“That’s one hamper per week, and a hamper is approximately enough food for a week,” Demeo said. “We have to really thank LUSH Valley for working with the school district.”

He added that all schools have food cards available to help families.

He has had discussions with people in the Ministry of Education about what has been happening. One of the questions for everyone is whether schools reopen in the remaining weeks of the year, but with the calendar winding down, Demeo said the focus is on what September might look like. While staff, he said, have done an excellent job in working with students in a different setting for the end of this year.

“Starting a year is a different ball game,” he said. “We expressed the need for staff to have time to prepare…. September will look different than it ever has.”

He discussed a recent conversation with Island Health medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns about issues around returning to classes, adding that the most important factor underlying whatever happens will be safety of students and staff, including plans for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. There are still many questions around distancing practices and how these would apply to busing students, perhaps through a staggered approach, to reduce numbers. Another issue is whether to add daytime custodial service in elementary schools. At the same time, there are other concerns such as anxiety people might feel about coming back into buildings.

“Dr. Enns did share that our concerns and our feedback was very similar to other districts’,” Demeo said.

Some trustees said they worry about schools opening too quickly, perhaps in May or June. The superintendent responded that those concerns are shared throughout Vancouver Island, and reiterated the need to prepare for a different September.

“Currently, the provincial government is working on developing those protocols for re-entry and what it will look like for schools,” he added.

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