SD23 and teachers' union discuss COVID cases in school system

COVID-19 in the classroom

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.

While one Castanet reader said there were more than 100 people isolating at the Kelowna Secondary School due to COVID-19 exposures, the school's principal says this is simply not the case.

"At this time, we have fewer than 25 people isolating at Kelowna Secondary School," KSS principal Troy White told Castanet.

"We need to be cognizant and careful not to listen to rumours as this raises the anxiety of the entire school community. Such anxiety can negatively impacts mental health and learning."

White applauded the KSS community on their adherence to protocols during this unusual school year.

"Students and staff have been following our COVID-19 protocols extremely well and Kelowna Secondary School is a safe place," White said.

School District 23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal told Castanet that just because students are isolating at home, doesn't mean they're COVID-positive.

"They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution," he said. "One COVID-19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Last week, Provincial Health Officer said the data continues to show that B.C. schools are safe environments.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

As COVID-19 exposures surge within the Central Okanagan, school parents are asking why and what's being done.

Castanet continues to receive daily questions regarding exposures within School District 23. One anonymous question typifies the types of questions/statements we have received, "Kelowna Secondary School has so many COVID cases. There are over 100 people isolating and they make it seem like nothing."

The questions have made their way to B.C.'s top doctor. On Thursday Dr. Bonnie Henry referenced two studies in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions that showed that the limited transmission seen in schools does not appear to be driving transmission in the community.

Castanet reached out to SD23 superintendent Kevin Kaardal to gauge the school district's reaction to what appears to be increased cases in schools.

"Please remember that persons isolating are not infected. They are being isolated out of an abundance of caution. One COVID 19 positive person (an exposure) can result in 50+ people (two classes) being isolated to reduce the risk of transmission," he said.

Kaardal says SD23 works closely with Interior Health and takes their direction on exposure-response from the health authority.

"It is worrying that exposures are on the rise in the community and therefore in schools. I encourage everyone to follow public health advice to flatten the infection curve and to get vaccinated as soon as you are able and supply is available. As Dr. Bonnie Henry shared, schools have low rates of transmission. Schools continue to be safe places to be."

The Central Okanagan Teachers Union tends to agree with Kaardal's assessment. Union president Susan Bauhart says, "the only thing I can honestly say, safely, is that I do believe that the variants are here and have taken hold."

Bauhart says they are starting to hear that the school district is running out of teachers on-call, and are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for replacement teachers. "It's every day now. It's either repeats in schools or more schools added and it's spreading and it's spreading fast."

Bauhart says her members have expressed concern over the spread of COVID-19 variants and she has written a letter to Interior Health on behalf of her membership asking, "can you please get them vaccinated."

"I would really like to see everybody tested in some of these schools and then see what the real numbers are," says Bauhart. "I think it's pretty well known that B.C.'s testing is not up to the levels of other provinces, they haven't been testing as much."

It appears the province has been listening as Dr. Henry has said that school staff will be prioritized for vaccines in the coming weeks.

To date, no school-age children in B.C. have died from COVID-19, and about one in 200 people under 18 who become infected with the virus require hospitalization.

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