Schools are fully reopening again and with enhanced safety protocols. (File photo)

Schools are fully reopening again and with enhanced safety protocols. (File photo)

Houston, Smithers schools prepare for full opening next week

Measures in place to limit Omicron variant spread

Preparations are in place to fully open public schools in Houston and Smithers Jan. 10 following a week in which just children of essential workers and students requiring specific supports were welcomed back following the Christmas break.

This week’s limited opening gave School District 54 administrators, teachers and staffers a chance to gauge the impact of the transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant and to prepare measures to limit circumstances allowing the virus to spread.

“There has been a lot of time reviewing and making changes to the safety plans to include some of the new measures, i.e. staggered starts to reduce congestion and no visitors to the school, etc.,” said School District 54 superintendent Mike McDiarmid.

“We of course will be reemphasizing the importance of health checks, mask wearing and vaccination.”

Although some students were back in class, there was no formal instruction.

McDiarmid estimated most schools had between 10 and 20 students in attendance this week.

And each location has had small numbers of teachers and staff, two or three at each site, away with either COVID or COVID-like symptoms, he added.

“We do expect this to change going forward,” McDiarmid said.

The decision for a staggered post-Christmas break was announced by the provincial government just before New Year’s Eve, causing school administrators to quickly assemble safety protocols and other measures.

The decision was among a series of new measures brought in in late December in an effort to blunt the impact of the Omicron variant which has seen case numbers soar and hospitalizations increase.

Preparations do include measures to deal with worst case scenarios in which there might not be enough teachers and other employees to keep schools open, said McDiarmid.

“If we decide to do this, it will mean most students will move to remote/online learning for about a week. Right now it is hard to say if/when this may occur but we have made plans in case it comes to pass,” he said.