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COLUMN: Challenging second half of school year lies ahead

Omicron variant has made matters more complicated for teachers, students and staff

The next few weeks will prove very challenging in Surrey and Delta schools.

The challenges will confront teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and, of course, students.

There will be no shortage of anxiety. Surrey, as B.C.’s largest school district, will encounter a huge variety of different situations. Things will be much the same in Delta.

Students returned to classes in large numbers on Monday, while the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.

Compounding all that is the fact that just over a third of five- to 11–year-olds have been vaccinated thus far in the Fraser Health Authority, which includes Surrey and Delta and every community east of Vancouver as far as Boston Bar.

The vaccine has been available since late November, but so far, just over 50 per cent of children in that age group have either received a shot or registered for one. Many parents are reluctant to commit to vaccination at this stage.

This may be one of the most challenging points we have come to in this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

The vast majority of people, 12 years old and over, are vaccinated. A good number have received a third booster dose, and many others will qualify soon.

Vaccines are available for five- to 11-year-olds. Children younger than five are not able to get any vaccinations, and Omicron is affecting children more than earlier variants have.

The past year has proven that sending children to school is basically sound. Dr. Bonnie Henry has stressed the importance of going to school, for learning, social and mental health reasons.

However, there will be outbreaks of COVID-19, likely at almost every school. In addition, because Omicron is so widespread, many staff members will be isolating at home.

The children may arrive at school, but there may not be anyone to teach them. In addition, testing is limited and full contact tracing will not be possible.

Administrators used much of last week developing many contingency plans for a wide variety of possibilities. Some of those will almost certainly be put into practice this week.

These will include school closures, if necessary.

Of course, Omicron has affected almost every other workplace as well. These effects, just like those in schools, ripple into families and society. No one knows where it will go.

For now, we owe a debt of thanks to school staff for stepping up to the plate in a very challenging situation, not even knowing what is to come. Hopefully, everyone connected to the school system will get through this as soon as possible, with the least possible ill effect.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of longtime Peace Arch News production manager Jim Chmelyk. He was a key factor in the success of the newspaper for more than 30 years, and will be greatly missed by many. Condolences to his family and all who will miss his smile and good humour.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at Email

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