INNISFAIL - The 11,000-student Chinook’s Edge School Division expects to have high-grade medical masks and rapid test kids available for students, teachers and other staff by Jan. 14 as classes resumed yesterday, says superintendent Kurt Sacher.
The masks and test kits are being provided to all schools in the province in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.
“The additional masks and testing kits are a gesture on behalf of government to allow people to take even more steps above and beyond the restrictions that are already in place to protect everyone’s safety,” said Sacher.
All CESD schools have been instructed to consult parents about whether they want their children bringing home the new tests and masks, he said.
“Schools will be communicating with families to see if the family wants the masks and the test kits provided,” he said. “If a family just doesn’t want them it’s their choice
“We don’t want the masks and kits ending up in the garbage. We will be asking, ‘Do you really want the kits and the mask?’ and if they do we will send them home.”
There is no requirement for parents to report test results from the kits to Chinook's Edge, officials said.
Each school has been instructed to create a process where parents are asked whether they want to opt in or opt out of having the masks and kits, he said.
The expectation is that each student will receive two of the new masks a week, he said.
When the masks and tests are received they will be immediately distributed, he said.
“Once the schools have them they will be rolled out right away,” he said.
Wearing the new masks will be optional for students, he said.
“That would be the kid’s choice but often they make those decisions in consultations with their parents,” he said.
Protocols already in place regarding masking by staff and visitors will remain in place, he said.
“They will continue to wear their own masks and they will be given the option with the new ones that are being provided (by the government),” he said, noting that masking remains mandatory for everyone on school buses.
The division’s new vaccine procedure came into effect on Jan. 10, with everyone (except students) spending a significant time at any school facility required to either be fully vaccinated, commit to rapid testing or have an approved medical exemption.
“If you are just dropping something off or if you are coming to observe an after-hours sporting events you don’t need to adhere to it (the procedure) but you do if you are volunteering at a school,” he said, noting coaches need to adhere.
There will be signs posted at every school informing staff and visitors of the new procedure, he said.
Contingency plans are in place should a move to online learning be required, he said.
“The government gave us this whole week (Jan. 3-10) to plan so we gave direction to our people that they need to be fully prepared for short-term, temporary learning to be done under that at-home, online venue,” he said.
“Our staff are fully prepared if need be. We have plans in place where we may end up with just a classroom being taught from home or a grade level.”
The province has outlined the criteria for schools moving to online learning for a short period of time, he said.
“We have a protocol to request support for that,” he said.