‘Cautiously optimistic’: Some Island school districts hopeful worst of Omicron is over


It’s been nearly a month since B.C. students returned to school after a delayed restart due to Omicron.

As cases shot up in early January, there was high anxiety among students, parents and school staff of what the next few weeks would bring.

But despite plenty of planning, widespread school closures have not materialized.

According to the Ministry of Education there is currently only one public school, out of 1,571, closed due to staffing shortages. Since Jan. 10 there have been 11 others that have had to close, including just one on Vancouver Island, Port McNeil’s North Island Senior Secondary. All 11 have since reopened.

The Saanich School District (SD63) credits high vaccination rates and people following safety protocols with a smoother than expected return to school.

“We’ve done fairly well, knock on wood, our attendance rates have been fairly strong,” said Saanich Superintendent Dave Eberwein.

While the absence rate in many districts has been higher than normal, some say the worst appears to have peaked in mid-January.

“The trend over the last couple of weeks is a steady improvement in attendance rates for both staff and students and we’re hopeful that trend certainly continues,” Eberwein said.

While most schools have been able to stay open, the local teacher’s union says it hasn’t been without its challenges particularly for high school teachers trying to keep the curriculum on track.

“If they’re away even for one week even if 15 per cent of their class is away the next week it’s hard to deliver a consistent program and that’s been a real struggle for students and teachers,” said Winona Waldren, President of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.

Adding to the challenge is that the rapid test kits promised to teachers weeks ago have only just arrived.

“They arrived in the district today and are quickly going out to schools but it seems a little late,” Waldren said.

Waldren says many teachers are still waiting on N95 masks and the union is still pushing for better ventilation in all of its schools.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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