Coronavirus: Okanagan schools open to some students

While thousands of students across the Okanagan do their learning from home amid the pandemic, several hundred returned to classrooms on Monday.

Classes opened to children of what are considered “tier one” essential services workers, including front-line health-care workers.

“So they can attend work and do the very important work that essential services workers are doing to fight the pandemic,” said Kevin Kaardal, school superintendent for the Central Okanagan school district.

In the Central Okanagan, more than 20 schools have been designated to run the program, which is available to students from kindergarten to Grade 6.

“We had over 550 students, kindergarten to Grade 6, whose parents are essential services workers in tier 1 indicate an interest in this service and today, as we opened we’re serving just under 200,” Kaardal told Global News.

Those numbers are expected to jump over the coming weeks as the program expands to include children of tier two and three essential service workers.

Those tiers include people like teachers themselves, grocery store clerks and other supply chain workers.

“We have actually 1,100 requests when we look at tier 2 and 3 essential services workers as well,” Kaardal said. “And we are only servicing those essential services workers who have no other options for support, childcare or learning services.”

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The school district has worked in collaboration with public health officials to ensure both students and staff are following all the necessary guidelines to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve checked with Interior Health on every plan we are putting into place,” said Moyra Baxter, School District 23 board chair. “So depending on the size of the classroom, we are thinking there will be six or eight or 10 students spaced out in the classroom.”

School officials say the students who are attending class will be following a very similar curriculum to the one students at home are to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“We believe those same or similar projects will be provided to the students that are currently working on site,” Kaardal said.

Another service that school districts have been mandated to continue has to do with providing food to vulnerable students.

Districts have all kinds of breakfast and hot lunch programs in place, something that students at home will continue to receive.

“We realize that those students and those families still are going to need that sort of support,” Baxter said. “So we are going to be providing breakfasts and lunches a week at a time. So they are boxed up and they come pick them up or each school will arrange with their families how they are going to get these.”

In the Central Okanagan school district, about 2,000 students are provided with meals every day.

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