School is back in session at Twain Sullivan, above, and other schools within School District 54. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

School is back in session at Twain Sullivan, above, and other schools within School District 54. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

Pandemic still a factor as schools open for another year

School District 54 also facing staffing challenges

School District 54’s schools opened this week in Houston, Smithers and Telkwa with the COVID-19 pandemic remaining a factor.

“While normal school activities have resumed, we do ask staff and students to remain home if they are ill and only return when their symptoms have resolved,” school superintendent Michael McDiarmid said.

“We hope that everyone in our school communities know that Covid is still with us and the best way to protect your family from becoming seriously ill is to keep up to date in your vaccinations.”

Following on provisions for people age 12 and up, COVID-19 vaccinations are now available for children 5-11 with boosters available after six months. Families of those who received a first dose will be contacted to book the next dose.

Masks are no longer required in public schools but can be worn as an option.

And as is the case with school districts elsewhere, School District 54 reports challenges in teacher and other staffing.

“The district is experiencing a small number staffing challenges in both Houston and Smithers. At this point it appears that some specialty positions are unfilled i.e. shop classes, counselling and some learner support,” said McDiarmid.

“If we start the year with these positions unfilled, principals will adjust student and staff schedules to ensure students get the support they need.”

There are similar challenges in finding enough maintenance people and bus drivers but McDiarmid was confident the school district will be able to maintain required service levels.

There have also been delays in the district’s planned summer maintenance projects because of contractors having their own staffing challenges.

Still, McDiarmid believes School District 54 is in better staffing shape than most districts in the north.

School District 82 which covers Stewart, Terrace, Kitimat and the Hazeltons, for instance, the district has been advertising not just for teachers but also for places for new hires to live.

As far as the student population is concerned, McDiarmid said enrolment is up slightly and that some schools are at capacity.

And as schools open, the school district will also be deciding how to spend $250,000 being sent to it by the provincial government to help students from families affected by inflation and rising prices.

It’s part of $60 million being provided to public schools and another $3.8 million to independent schools.

School districts will be speaking to parent advisory groups and others as to how the money should be spent but locally, School District 54 has experienced an increase in demand for breakfast and lunch food programs.

The money could also be spent on items such as school supplies and activities such as field trips.