Primary and secondary school students of Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools are expected to have a longer-than-expected spring break, following a suspension of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students were due to return to class March 30, but during a press conference this afternoon, B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the ministry is directing all schools to suspend all in-class instruction until further notice due to coronavirus risk. Students who are on track to progress to the next grade, or graduate, will do so. As well, arrangements will be made to help provide school meals for at-risk students.
School districts are being asked to start planning for how learning will continue in the absence of in-class time, according to Fleming. Charlene McKay, Nanaimo school board chairwoman, said while the district is happy to comply for the time being, it is too early to talk about how it will proceed.
“Obviously it’s in the best interests of everyone in society, our students, teachers, everyone’s well-being is of the utmost importance right now,” McKay said. “We’ve gotten the initial indicators from the ministry that this is how we’re moving forward for the time being and we’re going to do everything that we can to find out more later today and figure out what that looks like for our district.”
In a March 13 letter to parents, the school district said decisions on school closures would come from B.C. public health officials in cooperation with school districts and the ministry. Denise Wood, Nanaimo district teachers’ union president, said during consultation with the province, the union expressed concerns about teachers teaching on call in the event of school shutdown, as they don’t have guaranteed income.
“They’re not salaried employees, so we’re worried what that’s going to look like for them,” said Wood. “They don’t have access to medical EI, so that’s a concern for sure and … we’re worried about community spread.”
Schools are important to the social fabric, according to Wood.
“We have a lot of kids that are living in poverty that rely on meals at school, so we have a lot of kids [whose] parents are in precarious work right now and they’re not able to stay home with them, so schools provide an important service,” said Wood. “It’s not just about learning. It’s a social service, so we’re seeing how important that is right now.”
– with files from Katya Slepian, Black Press