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Q&A: How 'functional closures' will work in New Westminster schools

School District 40 has laid out its plans for how school shutdowns will work in the event of major COVID-related staff shortages. Here's how it will look in New Westminster.
Remember these days, when your child was learning at home in the spring of 2020? New Westminster families could see temporary "functional closures" of schools in the event of major staff absences. Here's how it will all work.

What will happen if your child’s school doesn’t have enough staff to stay open?

The New Westminster school district has set out its plans for “functional closures” in the face of COVID-19.

The term refers to the temporary closure of a school due to a large number of staff absences – and School District 40, as with other districts around B.C., has set up its process for how that will work if the Omicron surge wreaks havoc with staffing.

Speaking to parents at a New Westminster DPAC Q&A on Thursday night, school district superintendent Karim Hachlaf outlined how such closures will work.


When would a ‘functional closure’ be declared?

The district has set a threshold of 25% staff absenteeism as the level for a functional closure. But Hachlaf stressed it’s not black-and-white. The rate of staff absences that might trigger a closure will look different in a smaller school compared to a larger one, he noted.

And the probability of closing New Westminster Secondary School – the district’s only high school and by far its largest facility – is lowest of all, Hachlaf said.

“The likelihood of closing the entire secondary school is going to be very, very, very rare,” he said.


When will parents be notified?

Schools review their staffing levels daily to watch for the potential need for a closure; once a need is identified, that’s considered “Day Zero” of the functional closure process.

That day, the school will communicate with staff and parents to announce the impending closure – which will start the following day.

“You’re not going to get a note the morning you drop off your children to come back and pick them up in a massive panic,” Hachlaf said.


How long would a functional closure be?

The district’s plan calls for a seven-day period in which students would learn remotely. Staff would continue to report to work (unless, of course, they are ill).

After seven days, staffing levels will be reassessed for a full return to in-class instruction on Day 8, whenever possible.


What kind of teaching will students get during a functional closure?

Hachlaf said the focus is on the “continuity of learning” for all students throughout the closure.

The district is emphasizing daily connection with and support for all students, with a priority on essential curriculum. Students would receive a combination of real-time, virtual learning with their teacher and classmates, and independent work on their own time. The blend of those two styles of learning will depend on the age of the students.


What about students who need extra support?

Hachlaf said the district’s goal is not to shut any school’s doors completely.

 “What we’re trying to do is look at our capacity to support those students in need,” he said.

That means the district will do its best to accommodate in-person learning (part-time or full-time) for students with disabilities and diverse learning needs, even while most students continue to learn at home – though Hachlaf noted that will depend on staff capacity.

Schools will reach out to those families to make plans, including which goals from a student’s IEP (individual education plan) should be prioritized.

“We absolutely understand the stress that’s going to cause on families,” Hachlaf said. “We really are in this together. We really want to work with our parent community to support your child and our students.”


What if a parent still has questions?

For specifics on individual circumstances, Hachlaf encouraged parents to reach out to their child’s teacher or principal.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, [email protected].