Superintendent of Schools Carey Stewart (right) is pictured during the Haida Gwaii School District special board meeting on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 at Port Clements Elementary School. (Karissa Gall/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Haida Gwaii School District reopening two days behind rest of province

Welcoming students back Sept. 14

The Haida Gwaii School District held a special board meeting on Aug. 28 to discuss school reopening plans amid the pandemic.

Carey Stewart, superintendent of SD50 schools, told stakeholders the B.C. government has approved plans for school districts across the province to welcome students back for full in-person instruction for elementary and middle schools starting Sept. 10, and secondary schools where the ministry says the “vast majority” of students will attend every day.

Cohorts of up to 60 students are to stay together in the younger grades, with masks required for hallways, buses and other common areas of schools. In secondary schools, a cohort can be composed of up to 120 people.

ALSO READ: COVID-19: Most secondary students in person at B.C. schools

However, Stewart said SD50 is looking at delaying the reopening of its schools by two days compared to the rest of the province, which would mean welcoming students back on Sept. 14.

He said the extra days would allow more time for staff orientation and meetings with parents, as well as align with the reopening date chosen by the Chief Matthews School in Old Massett.

“This is our one kick at the can and we want to make sure that we network with all our parents,” he said during his presentation.

The district also shared draft Exposure Control and Pandemic Response plans with stakeholders, but because they are lengthy, Stewart said administrators are working on videos that will be help explain the cohort system as well as the daily health check form that parents and caregivers will be asked to complete.

ALSO READ: Furniture in the gym, arrows in hallways: SD50 staff report on return to in-class instruction

Board chair and trustee Roeland Denooij said he was supportive of the delayed reopening.

“I think there are a lot of trustees that wish they had the flexibility that our district has because we’re a little bit smaller,” Denooij said. “The administrators and senior teams are making all these plans, but our frontline workers are our teachers, our support staff. They’re the ones that are going to deliver this … I for one am grateful that we’re going to take this extra time, establish those safety protocols, and for teachers and support staff to come together to find solutions to teaching that are unique because that’s what this is going to take.”

Stewart added that the district will be giving two masks to every student, an initiative that Steve Querengesser, who is on the Haida Gwaii Teachers Association executive, said he supported.

“I was glad to hear that the district is going to be providing masks to all staff and students, which does align with the position that the teachers’ union has taken, that masks should be mandatory barring medical reasons for adults and students over the age of 10,” Querengesser said.

During the question and answer period, stakeholders asked if students will be required to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from off-island, in line with the ongoing state of local emergency enacted by the Council of the Haida Nation, as well as whether or not the district may try to expand its limited distributed learning capacity, and exactly how schools will respond if a student tests positive for the virus.

Nika Collison said she was concerned that many of the questions went unanswered.

“I see there are a lot of questions about ‘what if,’” Collison said. “They’re unanswered yet, so I do want to say that I have concern, given how quickly the opening is coming.”

Stewart said he would be incorporating the feedback he received into the plans and individual school plans were expected to be posted on the SD50 website by Sept. 1.

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