Keeping Schools Safe FAQ

Town Hall

Virtual Town Hall - Keeping Schools Safe - Feb. 11, 2021

This meeting was livestreamed to address community concerns regarding the increasing number of exposures to COVID-19 in our schools. Kamloops-Thompson Board Chair Rhonda Kershaw and Superintendent Dr. Terry Sullivan were joined by Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Carol Fenton in hosting the meeting.

Media Qs & As

Following a virtual Town Hall Feb. 11, 2021, SD73 hosted a Zoom media Q & A session. The Zoom recording begins as superintendent Dr. Terry Sullivan is answering a question about funds spent on pandemic-related staffing , supplies and upgrades.


Superintendent's Slide Presentation
The slides presented by superintendent Dr. Terry Sullivan at the Virtual Town hall can be viewed here. This version contains an updated version of the numbers of cases in schools, and among students and staff, that was presented during the session.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the compiled answers to the questions asked before and during the Town Hall, via email and live chat on YouTube and Facebook. 

 Introduction

1. Why is your Town Hall being streamed as a broadcast rather than an actual town hall with live questions? Why are you not opening this session up to provide us with the opportunity to ask questions live?

This Town Hall was a virtual event because it is not possible to hold it any other way during the pandemic. We opened the questions up three ways for parents and the community: via email before and after the event, and in the live chats on Facebook and Youtube while the event was underway. We will continue to monitor and answer any questions that are sent to superintendent@sd73.bc.ca

2. How was this Town Hall communicated to parents? 

The details of this Town Hall were sent directly to parents via email, and it was posted as a news item on our District website. In addition, the event was communicated through the District social media channels on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

3. Will this session be recorded or transcribed if one cannot attend? If these questions are not covered in the Town Hall meeting, will someone still respond?

The link to the recorded Town Hall session is posted on our Parent Resource page, along with the link to the media Q & A that was held afterwards. If you have a question, you can send it to superintendent@sd73.bc.ca. This FAQ will be updated to include new questions.

School Closure

4. Will you close schools for two weeks? We closed schools previously even with no cases in Kamloops. Now with numbers increasing in the community, the schools are being kept open. Why?

Schools were closed last spring because there was not a lot known about the virus. There was a need for extra caution.

Researchers were able to learn more about the virus over the summer, such as how it was transmitted, and what control measures were likely to work. IH worked with the District to develop safety plans to create conditions to make schools a controlled environment.

So far, this approach is working. Five per cent of the students in the school population in this school district, have had to self-isolate due to exposure. Dr. Fenton said this indicates to her that there are not high rates of exposure occurring, and schools are a safe place to be.

However, if there is an outbreak that is difficult to control, IH will close a school. 

5. Who decides when a school would close?

In matters related to operation of the school, such as a water main break or a power failure at a school, it would be the decision of the superintendent to close a school. In matters related to health, such as during this pandemic, that decision would come from Interior Health.

If there were a circumstance where too many teachers were off work due to the virus, then it might become an operational issue that the school would need to be closed, and the district would take that step, in consultation with Interior Health.

Exposures and COVID-19 Cases

6. Why are you saying that keeping schools open is a top priority, when the safety of students and staff should be your highest priority?

Students are a top priority. Dr. Fenton said Interior Health monitors the data related to exposures and COVID-19 cases very carefully, and still considers the controlled environment in schools to be the safest place for students.

7. Why is Sa-Hali secondary still open with so many people in isolation?

There have been many people needing to self-isolate at Sa-Hali, but only one exposure during the week of February 8, and there was no need for self-isolation of others in that case.

Dr. Fenton said that at one point, there were about 200 students sent home to self-isolate.

Schools can stay open because we know we are taking this safe approach.

She acknowledged how stressful it is having students out of school and self-isolating, but because IH is taking a conservative approach, she has confidence the school is a safe place to be.

8. Why has the district not considered returning to the hybrid/home school plans?

The hybrid program during the spring had some disadvantages. Teachers were being asked to do double duty, teaching remotely and in-person, and the learning experience was diminished.

There are options for parents who do not want their children in school. About 1200 students are taking distance learning this year, and others are being homeschooled. With 95 per cent of students having returned to class, it appears most parents want their children to be in school. 

9. Is there a place where we can access the numbers of current active COVID-19 cases within our school that is up to date? 

Information about exposures is posted by the BC Centre for Disease Control, and it remains on the page for two weeks.

10. What is the protocol when a student tests positive and has to self-isolate? Is a re-test and a negative result required for re-entry? If not, why not?

When a student tests positive, that student will be required to self-isolate for at least 10 days.

If they have not started to feel better after 10 days, they need to keep self-isolating until they feel better and their fever is gone (without taking medicine that reduces fevers).

Most of the time, people will stop spreading the virus to others when:

  • 10 days have passed since they started having symptoms, and
  • They feel better, and
  • They do not have a fever (without taking medicine that reduces fevers).

11. When a student is provided with a quarantine letter, why are the family not also asked to quarantine? 

Only a small proportion of those who are exposed ever test positive for COVID-19. Interior Health casts a wide net in asking contacts to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.

The family is not asked to isolate when the student has been asked, because in most circumstances, that student will not test positive for COVID-19 and they will finish their self-isolation and be able to return to their normal life.

The family and the contacts of the person asked to self-isolate from an exposure are only asked to self-isolate if the person does develop COVID-19.
If people wish to, they can self-isolate from each other following that exposure, but it is not mandatory, because the risk is considered low.

12. How prompt are the notifications? By the time I received an email about an exposure, does that mean the contact tracing already completed? For example, an exposure on the 27-29 of January was sent to me on Feb 3. My child was at school on the 1,2 and 3. Does this mean everyone had already been contacted? Or was my child at school for 3 days as the contact tracing process was still occurring?

A person will become symptomatic about five days after being exposed to the virus. Exposure is the 48 hours prior to symptom onset. It can take another few days for a positive test result. An investigation is begun when Interior Health receives notification from the lab that the person has tested positive.

The person and their family are contacted, and the contact tracing process begins. This includes working with the school district to identify people within the school community who may have been exposed, and then contacting them.

13. Why does it take 6 days to notify families of an exposure, then recommended only the one student isolate in their home and not the entire family?  (they have been mingling with their family for 6 days)

The system of exposure notification and contact tracing, as explained in the answer to Q.12, is the system being used by Interior Health. Delays are minimized as much as possible.

14. How many cases there have been with Sa-Hali secondary students this past week including those who are isolating?  

As mentioned in the answer to Q.7, there have been significant numbers at Sa-Hali, but only one case during the week of February 8, and there was no need for self-isolation of others in that case. During the Town Hall livestream, Dr. Fenton said that at one point, about 200 students were sent home to self-isolate.

15. The last exposure letter is dated Jan 28 and 29. Is this information no longer being provided? How many more cases are occurring in the schools, and what are the dates of exposure?

The information is still being provided as exposures and cases occur. The Interior Health website also provides current information about exposures and cases in the region.

16. Can we be informed about which cohorts have COVID-19 cases and how many are in each cohort?

This information is not made widely available due to privacy concerns. Dr. Fenton said it is important to balance the need-to-know information with people’s privacy to ensure that people will be willing to come forward.

17. Why do you say that cases are not school exposures when there has been student-to-student transfer of the virus?

Student-to-student transmission can occur in the school setting. That’s why contact tracing investigations are done, and all the contacts are asked to self-isolate. In the event they do develop COVID-19, they will not pass the virus on to anyone else, and it will be contained. This is part of the process of ensuring the school is safe.  

This is in addition to all the other control measures that are in place in schools. Dr. Fenton said schools are carefully monitored, and that an outbreak will be declared if there are signs of ongoing, unknown transmission, and it is not yet under control.

18. How do you tell the difference between an outbreak, a cluster, and an exposure?

An exposure is what is described in the timeline outlined in the answer to Q12, above,  where it is known someone has attended school while they were infectious and they were within proximity to other people. If those contacts complete their self-isolation, there is no need for any additional steps.

An outbreak is when there is ongoing transmission and it is not known where it is from. In this situation, additional resources are needed to investigate.

A cluster is somewhere in between an exposure and an outbreak where there has been a transmission and some additional resources are needed, but not to the extent of the outbreak.

19. How do you know the cases in schools are coming from homes and not being transmitted in the school?

Dr. Fenton said the data shows most of the virus transmission is being driven by adults, and that so far, rate of exposure in schools is relatively low compared to the rate of exposure in the surrounding communities. Exposure is usually seen from an unmasked adult at home or in the community before there is an exposure in a school.

20. Are school administration or staff also allowed to contact families directly if they are aware of students who have been in close contact with a known case at the school? (from seating arrangements, group projects for example) and if not, why not?

No. Interior Health acts on confirmed lab test results, and is the agency charged with coordinating the contract tracing that will be driven by confirmed test results. Schools will contact families that Interior Health directs them to contact.

21. What are your thoughts about finding a faster way to contact other students who had been exposed and therefore stop further exposures, faster?

It is important to ensure a contact tracing investigation is working with confirmed facts. This is why Interior Health is the official channel through which all the information about exposures and contacts must flow.

22.  How does IH determine if schools and teachers are contacted in terms of students who have tested positive for COVID-19? Will teachers always be notified?

Interior Health contact tracing investigations are done in partnership with the school. When key people are identified as contacts, a medical doctor inspects the list. Interior Health adds recommendations to this doctor-inspected list, and then submits it to the school. Once it has this list with its recommendations, the school sends letters to the wider community of parents.

23. If a teacher has an exposure in their class, shouldn't they self-isolate too?

Each assessment of contacts and exposures is done individually on a case-by-case basis. Information including the type of contact the teacher had with the person who tested positive for COVID-19, and other factors are all taken into consideration when deciding whether a person is exposed.

24. The school sends students outside on lunch and other breaks. What is being done to make sure that they do not share drinks or other items before coming back into the classroom and increasing the risk of exposure for everyone else?

Students are in controlled environments in the school, and they have been made aware of the safety protocols they must follow both in and out of school.

25. Why is there a difference between the way students can act on the school grounds, no masks and lack of social distancing vs. the way they must act in the controlled environment of the school?

The risk outside is different than the risk inside the school. There is much less risk of transmission outside. 

26. Can you address my biggest worry, which is that school exposures to COVID-19 can potentially put my children and my whole family at risk for illness and maybe worse?

We understand the worry about school exposures. This is a challenging and stressful time. We are working hard in our partnership with Interior Health to do everything we can to keep schools safe. We believe that as controlled environments with many layers of protection, schools are low risk spaces where children can learn effectively.

Families who feel even this level of risk is unacceptable due to their unique circumstances can choose to register their children for distance learning or home school them.

27. What is your response to our concerns that kids have brothers and sisters and parents that are around others that are not in their cohort, and they are in crowded classrooms where physical distancing is not possible? When they work in groups of 2-4 without a mask, they are not practicing social distancing.

With the updated guidelines announced in early February, schools are adjusting their safety protocols to ensure students minimize sit face-to-face contact and that physical distancing guidelines are followed as closely as possible. We expect these guidelines to be followed, and if parents have specific concerns or instances where this is not happening, they should contact their principal.

28. When the parents must miss work and self-isolate because of the growing numbers of exposures and cases, will the rules change to become more restrictive?

The Provincial Health Officer, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education are monitoring the levels of exposures in schools. Pandemic plans are in place to ensure schools can pivot very quickly should circumstances warrant higher levels of restriction.

29. Why not be proactive and make the more restrictive changes that are needed now to help our kids feel safer, happier and to help ease some worry among parents?

The District takes its direction from the Health Authority regarding the level of restrictions that are in place. We have confidence in the health and safety guidelines, and we are working hard to ensure health and safety protocols are in place and being followed to maintain many layers of protection for schools.

30. Does the District provide barriers for teaching and support staff?

Teaching and support staff workstations and classrooms have been assessed, and where required or requested by staff, barriers are put in place.

31. What is being done to protect the small, outlying areas that do not have a lot of COVID-19 exposure? To make sure that SD73 staff coming from the City of Kamloops into these areas are not spreading the virus into these communities?

Staff who travel to outlying areas are required to follow the safety guidelines. This includes doing their own health checks, wearing masks, signing in, indicating where they are going in the school, hand washing, sanitizing, and signing out when they leave.

32. How are schools ensuring outside contractors are being notified, considering students may not self-disclose a meeting with an outside agency counsellor?

All schools have a sign-in sheet, and when contractors enter the building their name and contact information is collected. If it is determined they have been in the building at the time of an exposure, the District contacts Interior Health to ensure they are notified.

33.  What are the protocols around substitute teachers? Are they traveling around to any school in the district or do they only have a limited number of schools they can fill in at?

District itinerant staff, including teachers-on-call, can determine whether they want to work at one building or several buildings. If they determine they would like to work at several buildings, they may do so, and as itinerant staff they would maintain physical distancing, wear a mask, and follow all the other safety protocols.

The District’s itinerant staff include IT, transportation, school board office staff, custodial staff, teachers-on-call, and certified education assistants.

 Masks

34. Will the District outline the new expectations regarding mask wearing with staff? 

All staff have been advised that all middle and secondary students and K-12 staff will now be required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including when they are with their learning groups. The only exceptions are when:

  • Sitting or standing at their seat or workstation in a classroom;
  • There is a barrier in place; or
  • They are eating or drinking.

For elementary students, wearing masks indoors remain a personal choice.

35. Please explain why masks are not mandatory for all kids K-12. 

According to Dr. Fenton, data shows most of the virus transmission is being driven by adults, and so far, rate of exposure in schools is relatively low compared to the rate of exposure in the surrounding communities. Exposure is usually seen from an unmasked adult at home or in the community before there is an exposure in a school.

Masks are only one tool in the toolkit, and they are not without risk, including the possibility of contamination in the process of putting them on and taking them off.

Schools also have other measures that in place including distancing, minimizing contact through cohorts, and having barriers to add layers of protection.

36. Why do students not wear masks while they sit next each other, whether they’re in the same cohort or not? (This is happening in my son’s school).

With the updated guidelines announced in early February, schools are adjusting their safety protocols to ensure students do not sit face-to-face and physical distancing guidelines are followed as closely as possible. We expect these guidelines to be followed, and if parents have specific concerns or instances where this is not happening, they should contact their principal.

37. Some parents are not wearing masks while they are picking up and dropping off students. These parents are walking amongst the students without wearing masks. How are you enforcing the mask rules with parents?

Schools are working hard to maintain many layers of protection within the building, and there are rules in place regarding student conduct on school grounds. We have made parents aware of the rules both inside and outside the school. If there are specific concerns about rules not being followed, please contact your principal.

38. Isn't vaping considered high risk for spreading COVID?  If so, why is it still happening inside the school washrooms and outside on school property? 

Vaping is not allowed in schools or on school property. If it is occurring, it should be reported to the school principal.

39. How will ‘masking while not sitting’ will be enforced? Also, seating in most classes is not 2 metres or even 1 metre in many cases. How is this safe?

With the updated guidelines announced in early February, schools are adjusting their safety protocols to ensure students do not sit face-to-face and physical distancing guidelines are followed as closely as possible. We expect these guidelines to be followed, and if parents have specific concerns or instances where this is not happening, they should contact their principal.

40. Why are schools not providing 3 ply masks, the recommended guideline to keep students safe?

Medical grade masks and non-medical masks have different construction and according to the federal government, all masks fit somewhere on the spectrum of effectiveness.

Masks are only one tool in the toolkit, and they are not without risk, including the possibility of contamination in the process of putting them on and taking them off.

Schools also have other measures that in place including distancing, hand hygiene, minimizing contact through cohorts, and having barriers to add layers of protection.

41. In my child’s class, all students are required to wear a mask, and they sit three to a table. The teacher keeps changing tables, which means students are not sitting at the same table within their cohort. How is this safe?

Under the new guidelines, students are to minimize close, prolonged face-to-face interactions, and the changes to seating arrangements are to be minimized, and this has been communicated to schools When students are stationary, they don’t have to wear a mask unless they get up to move around a classroom, away from their seat or workstation.

Teachers often do one-on-one instruction, and this must be done in the safest way possible. Often, when teachers are moving around the class, they will have their masks on to provide an additional layer of protection and to minimize the exposure to different cohorts.

42. Why aren’t teachers allowed to mandate wearing masks in their classrooms?

The health and safety guidelines provided by the Provincial Health Officer and this is the mandate that is followed in schools and classrooms.

43. Why are masks not mandatory on the bus? Why are students taking the bus with other grades who are in different cohorts? What is your response to our concern that there will be more schools that end up getting positive cases of COVID-19 because of what is happening on buses?

Masks are mandatory for middle and secondary students. Elementary students are seated with their siblings where possible to ensure less contact. Also, where possible,  students sit one to a seat. Seating charts are maintained so that if there is an exposure, it can be determined who has been involved. In addition, health and safety protocols include ensuring physical distancing when getting on and off the bus. 

Gym Classes 
44. Could you please explain to me how it is safe, better yet healthy, for my teen to be participating in 3hr long high intensity dance and gym classes with a mask over her mouth and nose the entire time?

With the updated guidelines announced in early February, physical education should not include prolonged physical contact or crowding. Examples of things that should not be a part of these classes at this time include wrestling or partner dancing.

For middle and secondary students, high intensity activities that increase respiration should be moved outdoors where possible or replaced with low intensity activities indoors. Physical distancing should be two metres of physical distance between participants. Students are required to wear a mask for low-intensity activities.

45. Why are two cohorts at a time taking gym class in the gymnasium? How is that safe?

As mentioned in the answer to Q. 44, physical education should not include prolonged physical contact or crowding. If there are concerns about a specific circumstance, please contact your principal.

46. My daughter was told not to wear her mask in gym class. How is that safe?

As mentioned in the answer to Q. 44, physical distancing should be two metres of physical distance between participants. Students are required to wear a mask for low-intensity activities. If there are concerns about a specific circumstance, please contact your principal.

 Miscellaneous
47. What is being done for our teachers? Are they doing okay? This must be stressful for them.

Teachers have all been working very hard, and this pandemic has been going on for a long time. There is a recognition that teachers and support staff are under stress. The District has assistance programs in place that provide supports including counseling, and the District’s wellness program emphasizes mental well-being through activity and offers exercise and fitness training sessions.

48. Will secondary students be allowed to use their lockers again? If not, why are elementary students allowed to use them and not secondary students?

There are no plans currently to allow secondary students to use lockers. In some instances, elementary students may use their lockers only as a place to store their winter coats and boots.

49. What do you think graduation will look like this year?

Just as the District followed the health and safety protocols that were in place for grad 2020, the same practice will be followed this year.

We will have a better idea whether restrictions will be reduced or increased as we get closer to the end of the school year.

50. Parents worry their students would lose their space in schools if they went to distance learning. Can you comment?

Students will not lose their space if they go to distance learning as a result of COVID-19 concerns. The district has put $1.5 million into extra staffing to ensure that once the pandemic is over and students wish to return, everyone can go back to their regular school. Students can go back and forth between schools and distance learning.

51. What is being done to support our children with regards to the added stress they are under during this pandemic?

We know students and staff are experiencing additional stress and we want to take steps to reduce that as much as possible. District staff have put a great deal of thought into dealing with the trauma caused by this pandemic to students. This includes trauma-informed training for teachers with the hope that will benefit students. There are also several support staff in the district who can respond if a student does have needs or is experiencing stress.

For Indigenous students and families, we have added several staff that are able to provide support and outreach to families.

In all secondary schools there are counsellors to respond to students that request additional support. In the schools where there have been exposures there is an increased awareness that we need to be kind and to look after each other.

Questions for Dr. Fenton
52. Dr. Fenton, why has there been no public health message recommendation that everyone take Vitamin D supplements?

There were a few cross-sectional studies done regarding the effectiveness of vitamin D as a protection against the virus in the United States last spring. Infection rates were compared with their vitamin D levels.

However, there have not been any controlled trials where vitamin D was given to people and prevention could be proven. We have not seen any evidence of any protective effect.

Dr. Fenton said she is skeptical of cross-sectional studies is because they are taken at one point in time, they don’t follow anyone over time, and they don’t reflect all of the other risk factors in those groups.

 “We have to be careful when we are interpreting studies,” she said.

We have learned, over the last 10 years, that vitamin D is a negative acute phase reactant. That means if you have inflammation or other disease processes in your body, and we test your vitamin D levels it’s going to look lower than what it would if there were no inflammation. So, having a low vitamin D level is often a sign of a disease process in the body, not the other way around. This has been validated through trials of giving vitamin D supplements, and not seeing any health benefits.

53. Is it okay to have a birthday party for my children, if they celebrate with their cohorts?

No. Dr. Fenton said it is not the same to have children in your home that have been spending time with each other at school. The school is a controlled environment with safeguards that include seating charts and scheduled cleaning. These levels of protection are just not there in households. The public health recommendation is for not socializing with anyone outside of our household currently. She encouraged people to be creative and to plan interactive games and Zoom parties.

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