The Quesnel School District has spent over $250,000 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside classrooms.
That money is roughly 20 per cent of the funding provided to the school district from federal and provincial governments for virus prevention, according to the board’s secretary-treasurer Jennifer Woollends. Woollends gave a verbal update on how that money was being spent during the monthly school board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 18.
Provincial funding is broken up into five areas: custodial staff, hand hygiene, cleaning supplies, face masks and technology.
“We have added over 175 [custodial] hours a week, and we’re looking at adding 80 more into custodial with after-school additional cleaning,” Woollends said. “We’ve hired at least four staff members, and we’re looking for more.”
Woollends told the board where pandemic funding was spent in the other areas as well.
She said the district is looking to add touch-less sinks where adults could use them, have replaced all air hand dryers with paper products, purchased face masks for staff and got 40 new laptops to loan out to students in need with provincial funding.
Federal projects include hiring additional staff and resources to support current staff, cleaning/safety supplies and transportation.
Some projects are relying on the release of more grant money from the federal government to cover their budgeted cost. That money is scheduled to be handed out in January. The provincial dollars will run out well before the end of the school year.
District superintendent Sue-Ellen Miller said she was working closely with provincial officials on COVID-19 regulations. While schools were not included in B.C.’s latest public health orders requiring masks, Miller said she thought it could be coming soon.
The board meeting took place one day before the new orders were announced.
“They’re bringing us up to speed on provincial issues, more than northern issues, but as you know, COVID-19 can move quickly, and it can change in our region as well,” Miller said. “For the first time, we were talking about outbreaks in schools and school closures. They walked us through the process of how that works with the provincial health officer and the medical health officer for the region.”
Former Quesnel teacher and B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring is asking for stricter measures inside schools. She’s calling for masks to be required in schools and for class sizes to be capped.
Excellent interview @vauvent prez of @SurreyTeachers. There needs to be a cap of 15 students & a mask mandate, especially in the Fraser Health Authority. We are looking to government to enact these measures. #bced #bcpoli https://t.co/PYcwn53lUy
— Teri Mooring (@TeriMooring) November 18, 2020
Miller said she’s not feeling pressure locally to include a mask mandate, but she noted schools changed plans to better outline where and when masks should be used.
“We do have good uptake on people wearing masks. If that were to change, and it became a mandate, I don’t think it would be hard to get people there,” she said. “[A mask mandate] feels really close to me.”
The board continued to deal with fallout from beginning a school year during a pandemic, scheduling an extra day off for students in early June. The district needed to schedule a non-teaching day, which wasn’t used at the beginning of the year because of COVID-19 training.
After consulting with teacher and parent groups, the day was suggested and approved to be scheduled for June 7.
The district’s director of instruction, Suzanne Bolin, said there was some initial discussions around scheduling the day for February, but teachers and administration pushed for June.
“Traditionally, there has been a day [off for students] in June,” she said. “People recognized June as a time where planning takes place for the next year, and [teachers] were missing that time.”
The Nov. 18 board meeting started early to allow for board chair elections. Both Tony Goulet and Dave Chapman let their names stand as nominees. Chapman had been serving as board chair for the past year, but Goulet was elected by the board to the role for 2020-21.
Goulet is a city councillor and has served as the vice-chair on the board for nearly a decade. Gloria Jackson will serve in that role for the next year.
“We’re in exciting and challenging times as trustees,” Goulet said when making his pitch to the rest of the board. “My role if I was to take the chair is to look at revisiting our governance and how we do things together, and our commitment to what we do as trustees.”
Chapman was elected as the board’s B.C. Public School Employers’ Association representative.
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