Central Okanagan Public School administrative staff have moved quickly to respond to new guidelines requiring all students in Grades 4-12 to wear a mask when in the classroom. (File photo)

Central Okanagan School District amps up mask distribution

Classrom mask wearing required; order impacts all Grade 4-12 students

The Central Okanagan School District is making more adjustments to school attendance public health regulations as mandated this week by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry’s ‘circuit breaker’ clampdown that has closed indoor restaurant dining, Whistler ski resort and restricted travel outside health authority regions, has also impacted public schools.

New regulations call for students in Grade 4-12 to wear masks at all times when at school. Previously, middle school and high school students were required to wear masks on the school grounds but not in the classrooms.

But with that change and the expansion to include elementary grades, school district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal said school principals and staff were called together Tuesday morning (March 30) to begin the process of adapting their staff and students to the mask policy change.

Kaardal said the school district has also placed an order for additional masks.

READ MORE: B.C. announces amendments to school mask mandate amid COVID surge

“We were anticipating this to some extent and had 2,000 masks in reserve but because of the increased inclusion of elementary grades, we have ordered a further 2,000 to provide students,” Kaardal said.

Without a firm timeline on when those masks arrive, Kaardal says the school district is asking parents to assist in providing face masks where possible in the interim.

The school district otherwise is awaiting specific changes to the health and safety guidelines for K-12 settings which will inform any further updated safety practices.

Kaardal is also anticipating a shift in focus to frontline school staff being vaccinated since being declared as essential workers under the provincial vaccination guidelines.

“It is the most effective tool in our tool kit and we hope the current vaccine supply issues can be resolved as quickly as possible so our staff can be vaccinated,” Kaardal.

“We know there has been a bit of a hiccup with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but hopefully that is resolved soon and we can sort through the vaccination process.”

With a 95 per cent attendance rate and the pandemic impact limited to individual exposures that generally have occurred outside the school system, Kaardal said he has started to receive inquiries from U.S. school administrators who in many cases have been unable to open their schools since September.

Beyond public health policies adopted at the provincial and Interior Health region levels, Kaardal said school district operations, administration and teaching staff have been courageous in their efforts to reduce or stop COVID transmissions in schools.

“People are called upon to go to work every day, to work with other groups of people, with colleagues, and follow strict protocols faced with a COVID-19 pandemic that seems invisible and spreads, and has spread in other settings in particular,” he said.

“That takes courage to do and do it every day, despite feeling fatigued and worry and hearing all the constant news media reports out there, and they show up every day for work. I am incredibly proud of our team.”

ALSO READ: Lockdown fatigue, ‘invincibility’ causing more COVID-19 infections in young people

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