‘Nervewracking’: Staff talk about stress of first B.C. school to start this year

Stein Valley Nlakapamux School has been in session for four weeks,

The Stein Valley Nlakapamux School, near Lytton, B.C., is seen in this undated handout photo. The school operates on a year-round schedule, with extended breaks for students and teachers four times a year, which line up with culturally significant times for the Nlaka’pamux Nation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Stein Valley Nlakapamux School

There were two questions that nagged at Kyla Blair when the school where she works — and that her children attend — restarted class.

Would her kids be safe? And would she be able to help keep other kids safe?

Blair, a mother of two, is a teacher and education assistant at Stein Valley Nlakapamux School, a First Nations registered independent school near Lytton, B.C., which resumed classes nearly a month ago.

The Ministry of Education said the school is the first in B.C. among public and independent schools to have started the 2020 to 2021 school year.

The school operates on a year-round schedule, with extended breaks for students and teachers four times a year, which line up with culturally significant times for the Nlaka’pamux Nation.

Stein Valley Nlakapamux School has been in session for four weeks, with the first three weeks allowing students to attend on alternating days to reduce class sizes. Full classes resumed last week, and the current semester is set to run until Oct. 2.

The Nlaka’pamux Nation hasn’t seen any COVID-19 cases to date.

Blair is a kindergarten teacher and special education assistant at the school, where her kids are in kindergarten and Grade 3.

She said she was concerned about the kids’ ability to follow physical distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s a scary time to be making the decision to be taking your kid back to school or not,” she said. “I’m so thankful that we have the ability to have such small class sizes and have all these extra precautions in place so my kids and my family are safe.”

School administrator Edith Loring-Kuhanga said the school was running through its reopening plan before the Ministry of Education had released its own initial COVID-19 guidelines at the end of July and into early August.

Teachers are set to return to B.C. public schools on Sept. 8, with students reporting to classes two days later.

READ MORE: B.C. school staff, older students required to wear masks in ‘high traffic areas’

READ MORE: B.C. teachers’ union calls for remote learning option, stronger mask mandate

“We had to just kind of create our own (guidelines). It was a little bit nervewracking,” said Loring-Kuhanga. “Some of the parents and the staff were concerned we were going to be guinea pigs … and what if it fails?”

The school decided to take as many safety precautions as it could, she said.

Students are screened three times before entering a classroom, personal protective equipment is available to the 40 staff members and each classroom was cleared out to allow for greater physical distancing.

School staff went through the province’s latest guidelines line-by-line and found that they’re doing more than what is required, said Loring-Kahuna.

“Our board has been very adamant that they dont just want us to meet the standards, they want us to exceed them,” she said.

Despite staff worries over children understanding the new reality of COVID-19 safety measures, Blair said students have been quick to follow the new guidelines.

Parents across the province have expressed concern about the safety of schools when they reopen, and while Blair says she understands those worries, she urged parents to trust teachers.

“Parents need to trust that teachers and the staff at schools are going to be working their very hardest to follow the protocols and do the very best they can to keep everyone safe,” she said. “Everybody is doing their best. Mistakes might be made but that’s how we learn and we can correct the mistakes as we go.

But she added that the Ministry of Education should be stricter on class sizes when class resumes to better manage safety concerns.

In a statement, the Ministry of Education notes that First Nations independent schools are exempt from the provincial government’s requirements to fully open.

“The health and safety of teachers, students and staff is our top priority,” the ministry said in a statement. “The government’s restart plan enables schools to deliver learning within the BCCDC’s comprehensive health and safety requirements.”

READ MORE: How to help your child cope with the transition back to school during COVID-19

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

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

Just Posted

Environment Canada has issued a snow warning for the Kootenays on Friday. File photo
Environment Canada issues snow warning for Friday

Two-to-10 centimetres is expected to fall

Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Homeowner intends to dispute COVID tickets after backyard party near Grand Forks

Brody Peterson said bands that played at his home shut down before the 11 o’clock cut off

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Trail Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Kootenay West Candidates (L to R) Glen Byle (Conservative), Katrine Conroy (NDP), Andrew Duncan (Green), Corbin Kelley (Liberal), Fletcher Quince (Independent, Ed Varney (Independent).
Q&A with Kootenay West candidates: Opioid crisis

Seventh in a series of Q&As with the candidates, look for a new set each morning.

Touchstones Museum has opened up Nelson’s Cold War bunker to the public. The unique exhibit includes artifacts from the 1950s and 60s. Photo: Tyler Harper
Take cover! Cold War bunker opens to public in Nelson

The shelter was built in 1964 in case of nuclear fallout

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, B.C., on October 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. Liberal Leader maintains confidence as campaign tests party identity

Liberal campaign has been disrupted by controversy

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Most Read