Signs up at Hope Secondary School inform visitors that the school is a closed campus during the coronavirus pandemic. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

Signs up at Hope Secondary School inform visitors that the school is a closed campus during the coronavirus pandemic. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

SD78 Briefs: COVID-19 exposures and safe schools, mental health training coming

Principal of alternate school TREC examines reward program for students

The following are highlights from the Nov. 17 Fraser Cascade School District (SD78) board meeting.

COVID exposures, prevention at SD78 schools

Superintendent Balan Moorthy reiterated his message that students are safe in SD78 schools, even as a pandemic continues, and that in school is where he wants to see students stay.

The school district has had two instances *of people who tested positive for COVID-19 having been in SD78 schools – one at Hope Secondary School on Oct. 30 and one at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School on Nov. 4, 5 and 6 – yet these involved only the two students who tested positive for COVID-19 Moorthy said.

An exposure, as defined by Fraser Health, is “a single person with [a] lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection who attended school during their infectuous period.” This compared to a cluster, where there are two or more with confirmed COVID-19 infections having attended school, and an outbreak which involves multiple people with confirmed COVID-19 infections and with transmission likely being widespread throughout the school. There have been very few outbreaks in schools in B.C., Moorthy said, and a few clusters including in Surrey school districts.

No other cases of COVID-19 came out of these exposure events Moorthy said. The district has had a very low exposure rate, he said, adding that “the only exposure rates have occured when those children have stepped out of the school environment and have perhaps gone to something public.”

Cleaning and disenfecting is ongoing as per the school-specific plans and the school district’s health and safety plans.

Read more: Fraser Cascade schools share school-specific re-start plans

“My biggest fear right now is loss of learning,” Moorthy said, adding that he hopes in-class instruction can continue as long as possible. B.C.’s education minister Rob Fleming said the government should keep schools open even if a lockdown to stop community transmission were to happen again, although he would defer to public health advice should cases worsen. we’ve learned from the early days of the pandemic that shutting down schools was probably a mistake when we should have focused on safety protocols,” he said, adding that despite the closure of four schools in the Fraser Health region transmission levels remain “incredibly low” in the schools still open.

Read more: B.C. education minister wants to avoid school closures completely

The fact that some students are still not learning is a major concern said Moorthy, even though the number of students not attending in-class instruction full time has gone from 237 to 176 across the school district. Those not in class could be either transitioning back to classes by the latest end of November (option 2 outlined earlier this fall by SD78), continuing online learning through the Western Canadian Learning Network and monitored by a classroom teacher (option 3) or families opting to homeschool (option 4).

“Kent elementary continues to be a concern, with our Indigenous community from Seabird, some of the surrounding communities, where they’re having a very big concern of coming back to school,” he said.

Moorthy referenced a letter sent to families whose children were in option 2, about making a decision on whether to return to in class learning. “The timing isn’t great” he acknowledged, yet the focus needs to be improving options for students as some of those in option 2 are not attending at all. “So by the end of November, into early December, students will either be in school, or we will be assigning them to a teacher who will help to monitor them online for the remainder of the school year.”

TREC to test out new student reward system

Principal Margaret Smiley said students at Two Rivers Education Centre, Hope’s alternate school, did better than expected during the two months the school was out during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were very concerned about that because our students need our assistance. It was a harsh time,” Smiley said. The school did not close completely, students were able to come in by appointment, and were already accustomed to an independent learning model that students in other schools were discovering possibly for the first time. “That was a very unreal, surreal couple of months but we came out on the other end of it.”

In a report to the SD78 board, Smiley wrote that course completion levels were slightly higher than the year before and above the three year average.

The last three years the school, which has around 60 to 70 students, has had mental health as the focus of their growth plan. Going forward, and inspired by the student success during the pandemic, the school will be focusing on attendance and course completions in their growth plan.

Smiley said this includes tinkering with how students are rewarded for progress. Currently, students receive rewards in the form of gift cards when they complete a course. Going forward, Smiley said the school may look at smaller rewards given more frequently. This would include coupons to local businesses given out when students complete course units. Course completions will be rewarded by having a students name entered into a draw held at school events twice a year.

Smiley hinted that she may be retiring at the end of the year. “I think this might be my last growth plan, although I did say that the last two years so one never knows,” she said.

Mental health learning in schools

Assistant superintendent Renge Bailie presented a program for mental health education in schools which will allow teachers and students to learn without placing a burden on teachers who are already exhausted. There is quite a need to support students, Bailie said, whose mental health challenges are exasterbated by the pandemic. This is being seen both by the school district as well as community partners.

The online Open Parachute Program will be starting in January in SD78, a program which brings mental health knowledge directly into the classroom through videos. There are also lessons for teachers, families as well as videos specifically related to COVID-19.

*Note: A third exposure for SD78 was listed on Fraser Health’s school exposure website as of Monday, Nov. 23. The exposure dates are Nov. 11, 12 and 13 at Hope Secondary. This exposure was not referenced at the Nov. 17 board meeting, which took place prior to the public listing. A fourth exposure, on Nov. 24, was confirmed by Moorthy. This has not been listed on the exposure website.

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