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Functional closures of Burnaby schools might be 'messy': superintendent

Staff attendance is being monitored three times a day to make sure schools have enough healthy teachers, custodians to keep going
COVID in classroom
There have been no school closures in Burnaby so far.

Despite some rumours to the contrary, kids at Burnaby’s Armstrong Elementary were at school in person Monday – unlike their counterparts at Armstrong Elementary in Armstrong, BC.

The North Okanagan-Shuswap school district announced a functional closure at their Armstrong Elementary Friday and Monday due to a staffing shortage.

But the Burnaby school district hasn’t had to declare any functional closures so far.

When one does happen, superintendent Gina Niccoli-Moen has already warned trustees it may be a “messy” process until staff have had some practice.

“Unfortunately we’re probably going to be getting better at it as we do it,” she told the school board’s committee of the whole last Monday.

Niccoli-Moen gave the committee an update on how the district is responding to the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the Ministry of Education and public health officials are tracking student attendance data to look for changes in absenteeism “that could be illness related and COVID related,” making it important for parents to specify whether their kids are away from school because they’re sick or for some other reason.

Districts have also been asked to track staff attendance data for a “completely different” reason, according to Niccoli-Moen.

She said staff attendance is being reported three times a day – at 8 p.m., 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. – to make sure schools have enough staff or replacement staff to keep in-person learning going.

That includes not just teachers and education assistants but custodians as well.

Should a functional closure be needed because too many staff members are off sick, the district will tell parents as soon as possible – but that might be when kids are already at school.

“It’s no different than if we have students in school at 9 a.m. and at 10 a.m. and we have a power outage with no hope of power going on for a period of time or the snow starts falling and we want to get students home,” Niccoli-Moen said. “We would never leave the children; we would never send them home without reaching parents, but we will begin that process of letting parents know that we have insufficient staff; we will backfill the school to support them until they can get students home, and then the subsequent day we would transition to online learning.”

Functional closures could last anywhere from two days to seven, according to the superintendent.

The day after a functional closure is declared will be a transitional day for students as staff transition to online learning.

“I know it’s going to be frustrating and challenging for families and for staff to plan ahead, but I want to just say upfront in advance that there is going to be some fluidity in this.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor