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  • Tracy Sherlock

Suspension of in-person classes doesn't mean schools sit idle

VSB Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman said there is still a lot going on in Vancouver schools, even though in-person instruction is suspended. Photo submitted.

Even though most classrooms in B.C. are closed for in-person education, there’s still a lot going on in schools.

In Vancouver, schools are feeding hungry children, making sure all families have access to technology, providing childcare for healthcare workers and first responders, and checking up on students with special needs, said Suzanne Hoffman, superintendent of the Vancouver School Board.

Three Vancouver elementary schools are now open to provide childcare for about 130 children of healthcare workers and first responders – Lord Roberts, Elsie Roy and Lord Nelson. Lord Roberts is in the West End, Elsie Roy is in Yaletown and Lord Nelson is in Grandview-Woodlands.

The red pins show the three Vancouver schools that are open to provide childcare for the children of healthcare workers. (Screen grab from Google Maps.)

VSB decided on the sites based on how close they are to hospitals and where many of the essential workers live. The service is free for children between the ages of five and 12, who live in Vancouver and whose parents are healthcare workers or first responders.

“The numbers are growing as people are becoming aware of the service and we have room to grow,” Hoffman said. “We are also anticipating that if we are asked by government to take on more essential service workers’ children that we may need to expand to more sites.”

For now, education assistants are caring for the children and there is a ratio of five students to one adult, Hoffman said. There are health checks every day and parents drop children off at the door, Hoffman said.

“The research is telling us that the kids aren’t transmitting it to each other, but we don’t want adults coming into the building,” Hoffman said.

A B.C. Centre for Disease Control document says more research is needed about children and the transmission of COVID-19, but that there is no evidence of child-to-adult transmission.

“There are no documented cases of children bringing an infection into the home, from school or otherwise,” the document says. “This is likely the result of the limited number of cases and the mild symptoms in those who do have COVID illness.”

Both Norway and Denmark plan to slowly reopen their schools, starting in mid to late April, with the very youngest students who need childcare going first. The move will only happen if cases stay stable and other services would reopen if opening schools goes well.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry just before one of their daily briefings. (Photo by B.C. government.)

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that she has been talking with her federal counterparts about the key pieces of information needed before any decision to restart in-person instruction could be made.

“I don’t have the answers today,” Henry said. “It’s a balancing game for the next few weeks to months, but our aim is to try and increase and get back to what we can do in a measured and thoughtful way as soon as we can.”

Henry is also looking at key things to watch to see if restrictions need to increase again in the future if there starts to be an upswing in cases.

Meanwhile, some other Vancouver schools are still open for before and after school care for children who were already registered, Hoffman said.

Even before the pandemic, VSB regularly fed more than 3,000 vulnerable children at 57 schools each week. On the first days after spring break, that program continued, with nutritious meals given out to as many of those families who came to schools to collect them.

Going forward, the meal program may evolve into a system where a grocery bag of food is given to vulnerable families every Monday, Hoffman said.

“We’re now looking to tweak the model, but it was important right out of the gate that we take care of kids that needed feeding and we were successful at getting it done,” Hoffman said. “The slow initial uptake was helpful so we could make sure we had everything in place for health and safety.”

This week, teachers are making sure all families have a device to access online education and those who don’t will be loaned a device, Hoffman said. For families who don’t have wifi, there are some city hotspots that are now free, there is a federal government program for low-income families and Shaw and Telus are also helping out with waiving some fees, she said.

“We are looking at all of the pieces we need to put in place so that there is equitable access,” Hoffman said. “I think service providers are figuring out that they have a role to play in this crisis.”

Once the technology is sorted out, the priority will be on Grade 12 students and making sure they graduate on time, Hoffman said. Other top priorities are special needs students, students in Grades 10 and 11 who are taking courses necessary for graduation and youngsters who are just learning to read.

“With the potential of summer or a longer break, we don’t want to have learning loss for our young learners,” Hoffman said. “For K to 3, the focus will be on literacy and numeracy foundations. There’s an art and a science though, to a balance. Not too much, not overwhelming. Not want parents to take the place of teachers, that’s not their job, but how do we do it in partnership?”

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