Members of two Whistler schools have tested positive for COVID-19, confirmed Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the school district this week.
VCH lists the potential exposure dates at Spring Creek Community School between Jan. 6 and 8, and also on Jan. 12, and at Whistler Secondary School (WSS) from Jan. 11 to 14. At press time, letters home to parents on Jan. 19 say there has also been exposures on school buses, the most recent being on Bus 4, afternoon route, on Jan. 15—as well as another Spring Creek exposure in school.
Whistler Secondary School PAC chair Tanya Goertzen said two members of the high school have tested positive, and added that she was happy with the speed and breadth of the information shared with parents around the exposures.
“It was good timing that our PAC meeting was [Monday] night (Jan. 18) and the principal was able to lay out to parents exactly the timeline of how she was given the information via Vancouver Coastal Health and she was able to relay that information in a very timely fashion out to the parents,” she noted. “They definitely have the information available and all the information they have they make available to us as parents.”
The news comes on the heels of a new local survey suggesting most parents believe their children feel safe at school, though a significant number also say their kids are experiencing worsening mental health due to COVID-19.
On Jan. 13, the Sea to Sky School District board presented findings from an 885-person survey that was conducted from late November to early December.
About a quarter of respondents said their children don’t want to attend school because of the pandemic, and some families are concerned their high-school kids may not finish in time to apply for post-secondary school.
Of those who responded, 726 were parents of children from Kindergarten to Grade 9. The remainder were parents of students in Grades 10 to 12.
The survey results, presented by assistant superintendent Chris Nicholson, encompassed responses from all Sea to Sky corridor communities falling under School District 48.
About 86 per cent of parents who responded to the survey believe their child feels safe at school, while about 75 per cent of parents said the plans are effective upon students’ arrival at school; 70 per cent feel the routines are effective during the end of the day. That number drops to 60 per cent when parents were asked whether or not they believe the safety plans are working during recess and breaks.
There was, however, widespread consensus among respondents that communication around the safety plans was effective, with about 90 per cent in agreement.
“We will continue to scan our school learning environments for compliance within those [safety] plans and make those adjustments as necessary,” Nicholson said.
Mental health was another big topic, with many parents reporting their children experienced negative emotions as a result of the pandemic.
About 37 per cent of parents said students were experiencing more anxiety and worry than usual, and 33 per cent said their kids were more sad or down than usual.
The survey showed 34 per cent of parents felt children were more irritable than usual, and 26 per cent said their kids did not want to attend school because of COVID-19.
“That gave us lots of things … to work on,” said Nicholson, adding that the district will be asking principals to communicate their mental health plans to their school communities. He noted that authorities would be asking teachers to communicate those plans to students and their parents, which is what many of them are already doing.
“Definitely there’s a bit of a COVID burnout and the tedium of the protocol is wearing on students, parents and families,” said Goertzen of the general mood at WSS, where she said administrators have brought in a third counsellor for additional support.
“So we have someone whose job it is to monitor mental health and be available to students. They are very aware that there are students in our school that need propping up and need a little bit of extra help, and they’re on it, whether it’s through trying to get food support for them or getting them extra quiet space for them to work,” she added. “I see that in action, and I think the school is doing a really good job of that.”
About 45 per cent of parents who responded to the survey felt their children had access to mental health support at their school, and 65 per cent felt their children had access to mental health support in the general community.
The impacts of COVID-19 on learning were also documented.
About a third of parents—32 per cent—of children between Kindergarten and Grade 9 said they were concerned about how the spring lockdown, which kept most kids from in-person classes, affected their kids’ learning.
However, 86 per cent said their children were making good progress after returning to in-person classes. The survey showed 73 per cent of parents felt their children’s learning was back on track since in-person classes resumed.
Those numbers were different for parents of students in Grades 10 to 12.
Among those parents, 43 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about how the spring lockdown affected their children’s learning.
A majority of those respondents—85 per cent—said their kids were making good progress after returning to class this fall, and 77 per cent said their children’s learning was back on track.
There were concerns about graduation among parents of students in Grades 10 to 12, with 36 per cent of those parents concerned about whether or not students would finish their courses in time for graduation. And 38 per cent of respondents said they were worried about whether their kids would finish their classes in time for acceptance to post-secondary institutions.
“Not surprising, given the circumstances,” said Nicholson.
He said principals have been provided with individual school data and they will work with school PACs and staff to create a plan to address the concerns.
“We want to ensure there’s a tailor-made plan to address these issues at each of the sites,” he said.
A final highlight of the survey was families’ feelings about safety on school buses.
Perhaps the biggest highlight in this regard was that 75 per cent of parents believed their kids felt safe riding the bus.
Further, 83 per cent of parents said their children wear masks on the bus, though Nicholson said that the youngest of kids aren’t required to do so.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Squamish Chief on Jan. 14.