An infusion of close to $44 million in COVID-19 recovery plan money from the B.C. government is getting an A-plus from Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district stakeholders.
In addition to ceasing student learning cohorts for the 2021-22 school year, the B.C.’s Ministry of Education announced $43.6 million to support ongoing health and safety measures, mental health services and to address learning impacts to students including First Nations and Métis pupils, according to a press release.
Denise Wood, Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union president, said she was happy to hear about the additional money, which she estimated could amount to $1 million for the district. She hopes it will go to the students and not administration, she said.
In terms of mental health, Wood hopes the district can add more counsellors as ones in the district are “stretched really thin.”
“If you’re a non-elementary counsellor and you’re at two different schools, you’ve got a caseload of way too many students and students are not able to access counsellors in a timely fashion because they’re typically doing paperwork and so if we want to support student mental health, then we need to have counsellors available to students and not just part-time,” said Wood.
When asked how students might be suffering from the pandemic by the fall, Wood said it was too soon to tell.
“A lot is going to depend on what happens over the summer,” she said. “They’re saying that everybody who wants a vaccination who’s 12 and up should be vaccinated when September starts, so hopefully that is the case and hopefully our case counts continue to go down.”
Charlene McKay, Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools’ board chairperson, said Thursday’s announcement was “super positive” and something school trustees had requested.
“The board wrote a letter asking the provincial government and the federal minister to consider keeping some of [last year’s] funds in place, so for the province to be responsive, we’re appreciative of that,” said McKay. “The board has had plans to look at custodial and cleaning … for the fall and this will enable us to start those discussions and sort out what we’re going to do.”
Jeff Virtanen, new president of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith education support workers’ union, said increased cleaning measures were beneficial and should be the norm.
“As you know, the devil’s in the details. We’ll see how much trickles down to us…” Virtanen said. “We feel that our new day-shift custodians that they put on during COVID helps improve our students’ academic experience because now there’s someone that comes there that can basically take care of anything building-related.”
More caretakers means that principals and teachers can focus on providing the best education possible for students, Virtanen said.
When asked if vaccinations should be mandatory, Wood said she didn’t have an opinion and McKay said it was up to the authorities.
“Really, we look to public health to help us with those decisions,” said McKay. “We’ll follow their guidance as it comes out.”