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SD57 receiving $2.4M in back-to-school federal funding, asks families to trust its safety plan

Prince George town hall answers concerning questions, basis to rely on Dr. Bonnie Henry
SD57 Town Hall - Sept. 3, 2020
SD57 Superintendent Anita Richardson (left) and Board of Education Chiar Tim Bennett. (via SD57)

School District 57’s (SD57) message to Prince George families is to simply trust the process.

On Thursday night (Sept. 3), district officials hosted a virtual town hall hoping to answer parents, guardians and students’ questions about its back-to-school plan as hundreds are expected to return to the classroom on Sept. 10 for the 2020-21 year.

In the public Q&A, SD57 said it’s receiving $2.4 million of the federal government’s $242.3-million back-to-school funding for B.C. to help purchase much-needed materials and supports as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

While she didn't have an exact answer how that money will be allocated within the district, Superintendent Anita Richardson said it could be used to hire more staff that can provide transitional programming for students that choose to learn away from their school.

“In this case, that transitional programming or programming for students who need to be away from school for a length of time, we would certainly look to additional staffing in particular for those families struggling with students who are immune-compromised to provide teachers specifically to provide programming for those students.”

As directed by B.C.’s Ministry of Education, SD57 is not offering hybrid or online learning as a full-time option, but as part of the transition phase as Prince George has less enrolment compared to other major districts in B.C., such as Vancouver.

When asked about spaces, Richardson explained if parents choose to home school, they’re responsible for their children’s education, must withdraw from their associated school and lose their catchment spot, and would not receive a dogwood certificate upon graduation.

“SD57 is unable to hold places as a result of the withdrawal,” she said, “as they may be needed for families moving to the area, on a waiting list or want to send kids back to school.”

Questions asked by parents also included Prince George cohort numbers, which will be up to 60 in elementary school and 70 in secondary schools as it moves to a quarterly system; extra-curricular activities like band and choir, which will continue with safety protocols; and overall sanitization set-ups in schools.

However, there were questions SD57 couldn’t answer regarding the COVID-19’s developing situation.

Richardson explained SD57 can’t fully comment on how to handle a person’s health should the virus impact school life, but rather it's under Northern Health’s jurisdiction to make important decisions that impact everyone.

By the end of it all, SD57 officials are simply asking local families to trust the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry and the guidelines given to them by the Education Ministry as well, noting that sending kids back to school, Richardson says, is the best option.

“I know that this is a stressful time for all of us and as a parent, I know there’s that added level of stress in making the right decision for our children,” said Richardson to close the town hall.

“I’m confident to send my own children back to PGSS next week and I know staff will have the students’ best interest in mind.”

You can view the entire virtual town hall via the Prince George school district's website.

SD57 encourages parents to reach out to their principal or teachers if they have any specific questions about safety and about their school's plan, especially if you haven't received a detailed email about the protocols in place.