School District 71 office

Outrage greets Island push for international students in the middle of a pandemic

Comox Valley school board says strict COVID-19 protocols in place for international student program

A Vancouver Island school district drive seeking billet families for international students in the midst of the pandemic has parents up in arms.

An email from School District 71 to Comox Valley parents, is offering financial compensation of up to $4,800 for families interested in hosting students from Germany set to arrive in the community for next term.

The package includes an option to host students for the duration of their 14-day quarantine at $750 per student. (See bottom of article for the entire email, which breaks down the payments.)

Karla Ullman received the email, and was shocked the government would be considering the continuation of an exchange program at this time.

“I am mad – it’s a slap in the face,” she said. “We are hearing from Bonnie Henry to flatten the curve and essential travel only. I’m sorry, but students from Germany have no business coming over here to learn. We have people here who can’t even go to church without getting fined. So why is the government thinking of their pocketbooks instead of our people?”

RELATED: International students, B.C. homestay families learn to live together during the pandemic

RELATED: International students ‘biggest unknown’ in Nanaimo school district’s budget planning

There is a financial benefit to the program for the school district.

According to the district, the International Program collects $6,500/semester or $13,000/year from each student. These funds are directly invested back into Comox Valley schools in terms of staffing and resources. The district anticipates 33 students for the second semester to complement the 85 students already here.

“It is not essential for them to come here,” said Ullman. “Why are they putting money ahead of our safety? All they care about is money. This is a risk we really should not be taking right now.”

Numerous other parents voiced their displeasure on social media.

According to correspondence from the Ministry of Education, the guidelines were put in place prior to the beginning of the school year.

“Prior to the start of the current school year, the ministry required districts and independent schools to confirm, in writing, readiness to meet all required provincial and federal health and safety protocols to receive international students,” the ministry said in an email. “We also worked with provincial and federal ministries on safe international student arrival and quarantine processes and any arrivals would have to meet federal regulations.”

The school district addressed the fallout from the email at the Dec. 8 board committee meeting, held virtually.

Greg Kochanuk, district principal for International Students Program, said the timing of the email was unfortunate.

“Usually about four to six times a year, we will send out messages to all Comox Valley families, seeing if anyone is interested in becoming a homestay [family]. Last night (Dec. 7) we sent out the same message… really not great timing in terms of Bonnie Henry’s announcement that, kind of, Christmas was cancelled and there were certainly people on social media expressing their anxiety and anger,” he said.

“They equated that almost immediately with ‘what do you mean, we are having international students in the Comox Valley? We are not allowed to go and visit people, and yet we are inviting these people in.’”

Kochanuk explained that there was a change in the federal regulations surrounding international student programs.

“The borders have been closed for several months, but what we are seeing is that those borders are opening and the Canadian government is granting study permits and study visas to students that they weren’t previously doing,” he said. “Essentially, they are granting travel exemptions; they are saying that the students’ study experiences abroad are essential.”

Kochanuk said all safety protocols are being strictly adhered to, and the district consulted with health authorities to prepare a top-notch safety plan.

“We are following the guidelines laid down by the provincial health authority and Immigration Canada, so we are doing what 41 other international student programs across the province are doing right now. Following all the rules, making a robust safety plan… we did that in conjunction with Dr. Charmaine Enns (North Vancouver Island Medical Health Officer). She approved our plan and actually said that it exceeds the expectations laid out in the Quarantine Act.”

“The district has followed all of the regulations as set out by the Federal Quarantine Act as well as the B.C. provincial guidance and related Orders,” Enns told The Record. “We will continue to work with the school district to provide guidance and support, as required, to help ensure the safety of students and staff.”

Kochanuk invited anyone with questions or concerns to email him directly, at greg.kochanuk@sd71.bc.ca

“I respect the fact that people are upset about it. I am upset that I can’t see my mother and father during the Christmas holidays,” he added. “But I think a lot of people were transposing that anxiety and that anger.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


terry.farrell@blackpress.ca
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Comox ValleyCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Nanaimo man will serve nine months in jail for the sexual assault of a young girl he admitted to having committed more than 40 years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo man sentenced for sexually abusing girl more than 40 years ago

Man, now 71, gets nine-month sentence for abuse of friend’s daughter

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo teen arrested a day after allegedly assaulting and bullying victim

Teen taken into custody after wielding weapon and threatening driver at scene of car crash

‘We Are All Beautiful’ by Elise Cole and ‘The Modern Thrall’ by Enigye (Happy) Amarkah (from left) are two of the pieces featured in VIU’s Anti-Racism Arts Festival. (Images courtesy the artists)
Vancouver Island University holds first Anti-Racism Arts Festival

Three-day online event to feature visual arts, performance, film and poetry

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photo courtesy Ella Smiley)
Orcas near the beach thrill whale watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ district administration centre. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district gets started on new budget amid unknowns

Ministry’s per-student funding increase doesn’t fully cover pay raises for teachers and support staff

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photo courtesy Ella Smiley)
Orcas near the beach thrill whale watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Police: mental health crisis likely in car driven through Saanich Walmart wall

Man in his early 20s drove through a parkade wall, no serious injuries reported

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
100+ international travellers who landed in B.C. refused to quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it issued $3,000 violation tickets to each

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

The Campbell River Gun Club outdoor range is located on Argonaut Road west of Campbell River. CRGC/Facebook photo
Campbell River Gun Club range shut down after complaints of stray bullets

Neighbour says bullets hit caretaker’s RV and shattered a glass panel on his deck

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Green Point Campground saw an unprecedented flurry of reservations last week. (Pacific Rim National Park Reserve photo)
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve campground sees ‘unprecedented’ interest

Reservations being accepted as Green Point Campground scheduled to open May 1

Restaurant owners Oura and Kymon Giakoumakis visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PODCAST: COVID-19 pandemic hits Island’s food service industry hard

Pair of Vancouver Island restaurant owners share thoughts and advice

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Most Read