Central Okanagan public schools have remained open since September in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and isolated exposure cases reported in many schools. (Contributed)

Central Okanagan public schools have remained open since September in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and isolated exposure cases reported in many schools. (Contributed)

Marking the COVID-19 one year anniversary in Central Okanagan public schools

School district staff looking forward to spring break after stressful 12 months

One year ago, the Central Okanagan School District approached spring break with considerable uncertainty.

As the public health threat of the COVID-19 began to emerge, the board of education had taken the initial step to cancel all international field trips involving Central Okanagan students, some of who were about to depart in mere days.

“It was an emotional (time) for many students who were still holding out hope their trips wouldn’t be cancelled,” recalled Central Okanagan Board of Education chair Moyra Baxter at the March 10 meeting.

“That was the beginning of this…we went into spring break really not knowing what would happen next.”

What ended up happening was schools would not reopen for regular classes for the remainder of the school year, classes open only to students of essential worker parents.

An attempt was made in June to homeschool students in Zoom communication with their teachers, at that time considered a dry run for what might happen when students were to return to school in September.

Baxter applauded the effort of all school staff – administration, teachers, operational staff and students – for coming together to address the COVID-19 challenges as schools were reopened in September with new public health protection protocols in place.

READ MORE: Class resumption raises challenges for Central Okanagan schools

With support funding from the province and federal government, Baxter said operational staff had to adapt to new cleaning protocols, while teachers had to learn new ways to stay connected with students as class time limitations were imposed by COVID-19.

“Our school district staff all came together and here we are a year later, still a bit up in the air about what will happen next, but we should be very proud of each other for how hard we all worked over the last year,” Baxter said.

Kevin Kaardal, superintendent/CEO of Central Okanagan Public Schools, echoed Baxter’s sentiments, calling the efforts of school district staff both courageous and exhausting.

“We are all tired and we acknowledge that,” Kaardal said of facing the challenges of the COVID-19 in the past year.

“But there is a glimmer of hope with the vaccines coming. The proof will be in the pudding when the vaccines arrive and we start seeing vaccinations en masse to our communities, but it makes me hopeful for very different summer and coming September when school resumes but we’ll see how that goes.”

He described the school district as being in the COVID-19 “home stretch,” as beyond vaccine delivery citing optimism in the reported COVID school exposure decline.

“We were getting close to 60 exposures prior to the (Christmas) break whereas last week we had only 10 exposures,” he said.

Kaardal added an ongoing concern remains the economic impact caused by COVID on families.

“Our other worry is that we continue to support families and our staff socially emotionally and also for food and mental health supports to families,” Kaardal said.

“We know this continues to be a very challenging time for many families…some people have lost their livelihoods or other difficult circumstances but we as a school district still try to do what we can to support them.”

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