Return to school: September 2021 guidelines
Dear students, parents, caregivers and staff,
As you may have heard, today we received the information many of us have been waiting for: direction on the health and safety protocols, as we plan for the return to full-time, in-person learning in September. This includes the welcomed news that students will be able to resume sports, music and other optional extra-curricular activities this year.
Here are the highlights of the layered measures that will continue to keep our schools as safe as possible, while we gladly look forward to a more typical return to learning:
- The masking requirements that ended last school year will continue as we start this new school year. That means:
- All staff, adults and students in grades 4 through 12* are required to wear masks in all indoor areas of the school, including at their desks or if on a school bus.
- Students in kindergarten to grade 3 are strongly encouraged to wear masks.
*Exemptions remain in place for students or staff who cannot wear masks or for times when masks may temporarily need to be removed. This includes when consuming food and drink, when actively engaging in an activity that requires temporary removal of the mask (e.g. when playing a wind instrument), when communicating with or providing a service to a person with diverse needs who may depend on visual cues or facial expressions, when a person can not put on or remove their own mask without assistance, when a person can not tolerate a mask, when needing to quickly identify a person, or when speaking through a barrier.
- Daily Health Checks will continue to be required for students, staff and visitors. People should stay home if they are sick.
- The increased focus on hand and respiratory hygiene will continue, with similar access to handwashing and sanitizing options at all schools and sites.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols will remain in place.
- An updated COVID-19 Communicable Disease Plan is being created, based on recommendations and guidance provided by provincial and local health and safety authorities. The District plan will:
- Be customized to include the specific needs of each individual school or worksite
- Include specific guidelines to ensure health and safety needs are met in extra-curricular activities (e.g. instrument mouthpieces should not be shared unless cleaned and disinfected between use, hands should be cleaned before and after using frequently touched equipment, etc.).
Today Minister Whiteside also spoke to ventilation as another layer of the considerations.
Thanks to the newer construction of many of our New Westminster schools, in collaboration with proactive years of upgrades to others, we are meeting or exceeding the recommended standards wherever possible. All filters – at every school and site – were replaced over the summer and will be replaced on a regular schedule throughout the year. We are also working with our facilities team to ensure that we continue to run our ventilation at full capacity, as we maximize the circulation of clean air at each school.
The one outstanding issue we’re still awaiting direction on is about the notification process around possible exposures. We will follow up with more information as soon as the BC Centre for Disease Control, in collaboration with Fraser Health, finalize the notification process.
As outlined by multiple health authorities and their leaders, getting vaccinated is one of the most important things we can do to protect the people we work and live with. While it remains a personal choice, if you have questions about how you or a child 12 years of age and older can get vaccinated, you can find that information here:
On a more personal note, I want to take this opportunity to say this: health and safety will continue to be a top priority throughout this year. As we have throughout this pandemic, we will continue to take our lead from the health authorities, knowing the situation will continue to ebb and flow. And we’re well aware that students, staff and families will each be starting September with a wide range of concerns and hopes, as we’re each navigating and living different realities.
But with today’s confirmation of a more typical return to school than we saw last year, I’m excited about the additional opportunity for learning, for supporting social-emotional needs and for growth that this new school year opens for all of us. We were able to achieve remarkable things last year … together I know we’ll be able to show what’s possible when we connect around our shared goals.
With warm regards,
Superintendent of Schools / CEO