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Coronavirus and schools: Two-week spring break a chance to recalibrate

For many school districts, Friday was the last day before spring break, a two-week hiatus from classes that gives health officials time to consider whether to keep schools open.
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For many school districts, Friday was the last day before spring break, a two-week hiatus from classes that gives health officials time to consider whether to keep schools open.

“We’ll certainly be reviewing our position on schools,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday. “We have a period of time where we can be thoughtful. We can investigate the issues around schools.

“We can talk with the stakeholders.”

Greater Victoria School District superintendent Shelley Green said in a statement on Friday that special programming for students and child-care groups will continue over spring break. Since childcare in the district is done by third-party providers, any childcare closures would be at their discretion, she said.

Beyond childcare, external rentals will be cancelled to provide space for deep cleaning of facilities, she said.

As per advice from Henry to call off events that draw more than 250 people, assemblies and other large gatherings after spring break will be postponed, she said.

Green advised families to continue checking emails from the district, along with its website, over spring break for updates about the status of schools.

Spring break is usually a time for students to be off on school trips, but COVID-19 has led to a long list of cancellations.

Most recently, the Sooke School District called off a trip to England that was set to leave Thursday.

A trip to Disneyland was cancelled shortly before the closure of the attraction was announced.

The Saanich School District started its cancellations by calling off a trip to Japan, followed by a number of trips to Europe, said superintendent Dave Eberwein. At a Wednesday night meeting, the district’s remaining two international trips, to Peru and Tanzania, were cancelled, he said.

The uncertainty also means no future trips are being approved.

“We’ve said to schools that at this point in time that all international travel is cancelled or postponed,” Eberwein said.

Eberwein said district trips were initially cancelled due to uncertainty about travel restrictions and quarantines, but Henry is advising anyone returning from international travel to self-isolate for 14 days.

“That’s just more reason why we shouldn’t be travelling internationally as a school district.”

With buildings set to be empty for two weeks, districts are planning thorough cleaning of schools and other facilities.

“We have all of our on-call custodial staff coming in in the first week to assist with our regular staff to make sure that we do a really robust and deep clean,” said Sooke School District superintendent Scott Stinson.

District bus drivers will be moved off exterior cleaning and asked to do interior cleans and disinfecting, Stinson said.

Eberwein said Saanich district schools are also in for a scrubbing. “We are cleaning all of the horizontal surfaces, door knobs, railings, those types of things,” he said.

Eberwein said the district is home to close to 300 international students, with most of them planning to stay put over the break. “We strongly recommended that they stay.”

If they choose to travel, they were reminded that they will have to self-isolate when they get back, he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com