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New West schools could be back to more normal operations by September

With COVID-19 exposure notifications on a downward trend, the New Westminster school district is eyeing the possibility of a more normal year in 2021/22
Classroom with young children COVID
Will there be masks in classrooms by September? The New Westminster school district is eyeing the possibility of a much more 'normal' school year in 2021/22, if the pandemic continues to improve as it is now.

Cohorts, masks and COVID-19 exposure notifications could all be history for New West schools come September.

With COVID-19 exposures trending down in local schools, the school district is eyeing the possibility of a more normal year in 2021/22.

Superintendent Karim Hachlaf presented his final scheduled COVID-19 report of the school year at the school board’s operations committee meeting June 8.

The report shows that, between May 7 and June 3, the district sent out 19 school-wide notifications about COVID-19 exposures. In the same time period, it sent 19 self-monitor notifications (in which contacts of a person with COVID-19 are asked to self-monitor for symptoms) and another 13 self-isolation notices. All the self-isolation notices involved individuals or groups of individuals, as opposed to entire classes or cohorts.

All of those numbers were on par with the notifications issued in the previous month, Hachlaf noted.

“There really is no change, and certainly no upward trend,” he said.

On an even more positive note, the past couple of weeks have been very quiet on the notification front. The majority of the May notifications came in the first three weeks of the month, while the last week of May and the first part of June have seen few.

In fact, June 1 was the last date that an exposure notification was sent out by the district.

“We have seen a definite drop in volume, which is exciting,” Hachlaf said, noting the trend is consistent with media reports about the state of the pandemic provincewide. “We are noticing a better trend community-wide.”

COHORTS LIKELY ON THE WAY OUT

For the final few weeks of the school year, New Westminster schools will continue to operate as they are now, in what’s known as “Stage 2” of the B.C. education plan – a plan that groups students into learning groups, or cohorts, of different maximum sizes at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Hachlaf told trustees schools will likely be in a new stage by September, provided the pandemic meets the benchmarks set by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Ministry of Health around case counts, hospitalizations and vaccination rates.

“We anticipate that we will be removing the cohort restriction for September,” he said.

He also noted the province’s current guidelines for the final step in its B.C. restart plan – which will take effect Sept. 7 at the earliest – call for mask use to become a “personal choice.” Whether that will be the guidance for schools as well remains to be seen, he said.

Hachlaf told trustees discussions about new health and safety guidelines for schools have begun at the provincial committee level. Information will be passed on to districts by early summer so all B.C. school districts can have new COVID-19 plans in place for the start of the 2021/22 school year.

Fraser Health is also currently examining whether it needs to continue the school COVID-19 exposure notification process.

“They’re looking at suspending that,” Hachlaf said. “That discussion is live as we speak, as we look at September and moving forward.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, jmaclellan@newwestrecord.ca.