School district planning for continued COVID safety in fall

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Wednesday, June 30 2021

The B.C. government has announced funding to help school districts plan for a “near-normal” return to school in September.

The province said in a June 17 news release that it would be providing $25.6 million in new one-time funding: $14.4 million for cleaning and disinfecting, hand hygiene for students and staff, ventilation and restocking supplies of personal protection equipment; $5 million for mental health services; $5 million for First Nations’ student support; and $1.2 million for independent schools.

When school starts again in September, students will no longer be grouped in cohorts. Guidance on wearing mask will be announced later this summer, the province said. 

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools expects to receive a $338,553 “health and safety allocation,” according to Superintendent Scott Saywell.

“Currently, we anticipate continued increased airflow and heightened HVAC filtration, which both are significant expenses,” Saywell said regarding the preparations underway for next year. “We also are anticipating a general change in the culture of increased hand hygiene which also is a significant expense with respect to supplies.”

“With respect to cleaning services, we continue to await the final guidelines with respect to schools, which will be released in August.”

In June, the province announced an additional $12.1 million to “address learning impacts from the pandemic” for a total of $18 million for the 2020-21 school year. NLPS is awaiting confirmation on how much it will receive. Saywell said the district will continue an “active outreach program” it started in the spring through the summer and fall “to ensure that we are striving to reconnect students that may have become disconnected from our schools during the pandemic.”

NLPS staff project 195 students to remain enrolled in Island ConnectED, its remote, distributed learning program for the 2021-22 school year. As of June 9, 735 students were enrolled, down from a peak of 1,360 this year.