Sointula parents ‘floored’ that children’s elementary teacher has mask exemption

CHEK News.
A.J. Elliott Elementary in Sointula is shown.

Alexandra, James and Kip Strain were all excited to start school at A.J. Elliott Elementary in Sointula on Wednesday until their parents learned that one of the school’s three teachers, a new hire, has a mask exemption.

“We were just kind of floored that this would actually happen,” said Brittany Swanson, a Sointula resident and mother of three.

The children attending the tiny Kindergarten to Grade 7 school are too young to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. So with spiking cases of the virus and the rapidly spreading Delta variant in B.C., as many as 28 of the school’s 33 enrolled students are staying away.

“We’re not talking about the same pandemic anymore. We now have a variant that is spreading more quickly and we don’t know what is going to happen in the schools,” said Swanson.

READ MORE: 65 new COVID-19 cases, one death reported on Vancouver Island

According to Swanson, parents have appealed to School District 85 to place the teacher in a role that isn’t in direct contact with their kids, but still haven’t received a solution.

“We don’t see exemptions for doctors and nurses. You’re not seeing those people on the front lines. I cannot understand why it’s okay for this to happen in a school system,” said Swanson.

The school is in the tight-knit North Island village of Sointula on Malcolm Island, a short ferry ride away from Port McNeill.

“It’s going to hurt the whole community,” she said.

According to School District 85 Vancouver Island North Superintendent Christina MacDonald, it’s a sensitive issue.

“As a school district, we take student and staff health and safety very seriously. We are required to follow the directives of the government and public health. We have listened to the parent concerns and are working to find a solution that works for everyone involved. We are hopeful that this matter will be resolved soon,” said MacDonald.

Meanwhile, Sointula kids who were so eagerly looking forward to school at A.J. Elliott wait in limbo, wondering when and even if they’ll return.

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