Phased in school openings have been announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, in background, and education minister Jennifer Whiteside. (File photo)

Phased in school openings have been announced by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, in background, and education minister Jennifer Whiteside. (File photo)

Limited opening for schools in Bulkley Valley this week

Province seeks to limit and assess Omicron virus impact with staggered school start

School District 54’s Houston and Smithers schools are opening next week but only to specific students as the provincial government tries to limit and gauge the spread of the highly-transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Based on the results of next week’s opening beginning Jan. 4, all students will be in class as of Jan. 10, School District 54 superintendent Michael McDiarmid said in a Dec. 30 letter to parents and guardians.

Following on provincial guidance, the school district has outlined who will be at school next week:

• Students with diverse and disabilities who require additional support at this time

• Students who are considered vulnerable

• Students whose parent or guardian is an essential worker and requires child care

“Please be aware that while there will be learning activities, this will not be considered regular instruction; students may not be working with their regular teachers or support staff,” McDiarmid noted.

He encouraged parents and guardians of students who fit the three criteria to contact the principal of their school.

In addition to next week’s limited opening, the school district is adopting additional measures designed to minimize contacts, including returning to virtual meetings where possible, staggering lunch hours and recesses, limiting the size of in-school and extra-curricular gatherings and spacing out students in classrooms.

“All educational activities, including extracurricular, and before, during or after-school programs led by a school should not require proof of vaccination unless otherwise specified in local, regional, or provincial recommendations and public health orders,” reads one paragraph of the additional measures provided to schools.

The school district and the province do encourage eligible students to be vaccinated.

“It remains the best protection against severe outcomes from COVID-19,” said McDiarmid in the letter.

Students should also stay home when sick and wear a mask, he added.

“The safety of students and staff has been our focus from the beginning of the pandemic and we will continue to make decisions based on the guidance from health authorities.”