FILE - The Haida Gwaii School District office in Queen Charlotte is pictured in this file photo. At the regular board of education meeting on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, SD50 superintendent Carey Stewart confirmed that teachers would be returning to district schools on June 1, but not students. (Haida Gwaii Observer file photo)

Haida Gwaii teachers heading back to empty classrooms on June 1

SD50 working with CHN following May 21 request to keep school closed until state of emergency lifted

Teachers on Haida Gwaii will be heading back to school on June 1, though it remains unclear when students will be joining them.

Speaking at the regular board of education meeting on Tuesday, SD50 superintendent Carey Stewart said the district would be bringing staff back next week to work from school on continuing services, such as online learning.

Stewart also said that, following Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming’s May 15 announcement about the expansion of in-class education, the district had released an Exposure Control Plan for COVID-19 on May 22, to plan proactively for the safety of SD50 employees, students and the community.

ALSO READ: COVID-19: B.C. schools to begin part-time class instruction June 1

“As of May 19, the majority of students and the general public do not have regular access to schools,” the plan reads. “The plan considers measures to be taken should students enter schools in the future and will be updated as needed, and as more information is provided by the provincial health officer and the minister of education.”

“I’ve had some really good feedback from the school administrators … in regards to getting ourselves ready at the school level,” Stewart said of the plan, adding that it is a “live, working document,” and still needed to be shared with unions and community members.

“The idea here is to make sure that we’re all on the same page and make sure that we’re transparent.”

ALSO READ: ‘This decision is critical’: Haida Gwaii declares state of emergency due to COVID-19

Stewart also addressed the fact that on May 21, Haida Nation President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop sent a letter to the district requesting that classrooms remain closed until the state of emergency enacted by the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) on March 23 is lifted.

The state of local emergency is “historic and critical,” Alsop wrote in the letter, and “includes emergency measures in effect throughout Haida Territories until further notice.”

One of the emergency measures is physical distancing, he wrote, such that only those who live in the same household can have physical contact. Outside of the home, people must keep at least 2 metres away from others.

Alsop also cited the importance of safeguarding the health of elders and individuals with serious health issues, as well as the “severely limited” medical resources on-island.

“To prevent a potential outbreak and ease unnecessary strain on health-care services, the Haida Nation is continuing to limit gatherings, such as classrooms,” he wrote.

“In collaboration with all-island leaders, and with direction from the communities’ emergency operations centres, we strongly encourage School District No. 050 to continue with online learning through to the end of this school year. Due to the unprecedented threats to our communities, the Haida Nation respectfully requests that classrooms remain closed until the state of emergency has been lifted.”

ALSO READ: Haida Gwaii School District busy with plans to keep kids learning

During the board meeting, chair Roeland Denooij asked Stewart about the results of an online survey the district had sent to parents on May 19.

Stewart said that of the 253 parents who filled out the survey, 184 (72 per cent) said they wanted their children to receive in-class instruction.

Denooij noted that the survey had been sent prior to the district receiving Alsop’s letter and Stewart confirmed the district is “working with the CHN right now to come up with a common vision where students and parents would all feel safe that we could start opening up our schools.”

Denooij then addressed some parents who had joined the board meeting via videoconference.

“We want to share with you as much as we can and as soon as it’s available we will share that information with you,” he said.

According to the SD50 calendar for 2019/2020, the last day of school is June 25.

More to come.

ALSO READ: Gwaii Trust increases COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to half a million dollars

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