Virtual gatherings, half-capacity limits, no audiences and visitor limitations are among the new measures the Sea to Sky School District is taking to curb COVID-19 rates in its schools.
On Jan. 12, Supt. Chris Nicholson presented to the board of SD48 the measures that schools in the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton areas are taking in response to the new Omicron variant.
"We spent last week working on the measures, and those measures were to be in place for Jan. 10, and our schools and districts have done that," Nicholson said to the board. "One of the main things to recall is we're enforcing those existing measures."
Nicholson said that means all the precautions that were previously in place will continue to stand, and the new policies will add on to these measures.
Regarding events, school gatherings or meetings will be held virtually whenever possible.
In-person events, such as inter-school sports matches or theatre performances, will still occur, but whatever venue is used must be capped at half capacity. No live audiences will be allowed.
He added that no visitors will be allowed in schools unless their presence is related to students' learning.
Classrooms are also being rearranged to make for more distance between students, and schedules are being altered to avoid crowding the facility. For example, staggered start times, so hallways don't get filled up.
Nicholson said that everyone is encouraged to wear a mask, but there is an understanding that some students and staff will have difficulty wearing one.
This can be the result of medical or psychological reasons, he noted.
"We will continue to support those individuals and work on looking at things like, 'Can you wear a mask some of the time?'" said Nicholson.
"But, of course, if you're unable to wear a mask, we will support you, and you are welcome in our schools."
He also noted there are two different types of school closures that can be initiated because of COVID-19.
A health closure comes as a result of the public health authority deeming it necessary to shut down a school as a result of COVID-19 counts. This could be a result of the number of cases in the school.
However, it could also be the result of cases in the surrounding community, if there are fears that having a school open can provide a way for the disease to spread quickly, Nicholson explained.
Nicholson said that there are no set thresholds for COVID case counts that will trigger a closure, as public health will determine each case on an individual basis.
Nicholson emphasized that school officials will not be asking students if they are away as a result of COVID-19, but can ask if they are away due to illness.
The second type of closure is a functional closure, which is initiated by the school district, in consultation with the Ministry of Education.
This can happen if there are too few staff to operate a school. This can be a lack of teachers, support staff or custodians.
There are, however, plans to have teachers from across the school district cover for each other in case of absences.
Nicholson said that in the case of a closure, students will be supervised until parents pick them up and technology for remote learning will be provided as needed. Schools will also still provide supervision for the children of essential workers.