Surrey's school district superintendent says Omicron will challenge schools to keep up

·2 min read
On Wednesday Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the return to school would be delayed for most K-12 until Jan. 10  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
On Wednesday Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the return to school would be delayed for most K-12 until Jan. 10 (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

As school districts across B.C. are busy planning for the upcoming semester amid unprecedented and rising COVID-19 case counts. B.C.'s largest district says its system of exposure notifications may be redundant with the latest variant of concern.

Superintendent of Surrey Schools Jordan Tinney said that because the Omicron variant has a much shorter incubation period than previous coronavirus variants, contact tracing, as it is done now, is not effective.

"We can't contact trace quickly enough... it's unsustainable with Omicron," Tinney said.

He said the district is working on how to change this notification process, which might only be used in the case of a significant outbreak.

"I think the days of individual notifications have had their time. Omicron is behaving differently and so we have to behave differently as well."

This week, the province announced that in-person classes from K-12 students would be pushed back one week to Jan. 10.

Staff will be back at work this coming week with some students, such as the children of frontline health care workers and students with special needs.

Tinney said the district is working on how to identify and accommodate these students. He said some before and after school care sites in Surrey will adjust to provide care for the full school day.

'Doing everything we can'

"It's probably more supervision than it is instruction for those children... but we're doing everything we can to accommodate them," said Tinney.

He also said schools in Surrey will return to health measures put in place in the fall of 2020 to protect against COVID-19 infections such as staggering classes and breaks, limiting in-person gatherings, conducting meetings virtually, cancelling sports tournaments, allowing fewer visitors in the building, and encouraging students to eat lunch in different places.

"What parents can expect is measures that we've all seen before, but we thought they were behind us," said Tinney.

He said the return to these measures should be straightforward for students and staff who have had experience with them.

Tinney said the bigger challenge the district is trying to address is what to do for students if schools are forced to close because in-person schooling is not longer possible due to staff shortages from illness.

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