How parents in the Okanagan Nation can prepare for the start of the school year

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and with back to school just over a week away for most, parents are considering the risks for their children and prepare accordingly. 

The Canadian government has increased funding for B.C. schools to help implement the new safety measures. It will support more staff, on-call staff costs, cleaning supplies, remote learning and technology, and mental health services.

According to Public Health, parents should be students’ guides in reassuring them on a safe return to classes. This includes encouraging them to maintain and practice hand hygiene, mask-wearing and cleaning up after yourself. 

Parents are also encouraged to keep their children home if they display any kind of symptoms. Those showing symptoms in school will be separated from their classmates. Parents will be contacted and the child will be assessed by a health-care provider, and sent home until conditions improve. Following Public Health’s protocols in these circumstances is recommended.

Here are  detailed instructions on how several bands in Okanagan Nation will be taking safety precautions, and how parents can help prepare their children:

Okanagan Indian Band

Since closing all of its education services on March 16 due to the pandemic, The Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB), in Vernon, B.C., has been preparing for the reopening of the nk̓ maplqs iʔ snm̓ am̓ ay̓ aʔtn iʔ k̓ l sqilxwtət (Cultural Immersion School)

Part of this plan includes offering classes both virtually and outdoors, beginning Sept. 14, and informing parents of the ways they can help prepare their children for the new school year.

First and foremost, says Gareth Jones, director of OKIB education, language and culture, “I’m trying to get the parents to start practicing when you’re in an enclosed space with your children, where you can’t social distance from people, you need to wear a mask. It’s not about protecting you, it’s about protecting other people.”

Non-medical masks will be required for all students and teachers where social-distancing measures cannot be followed, for example, field trips or close contact activities. Students will be required to bring a few masks to school each day so they can use them periodically. The school will, however, provide masks for students who do not have any. 

A lunch program will be provided to all students by the OKIB, similar to previous years, and which parents can opt into. However, instead of having a cooked buffet-style lunch, students will now be provided an individual bagged lunch. 

“I hired a school nutritionist who oversees our cooks,” says Jones. “So we have a cook at the daycare and to cook [meals] for the school. And in terms of providing, we are working in more traditional foods into the lunches.”

Parents and caregivers will be required to self-screen their children every morning before school, as well as after school, checking if they have any symptoms of illness, COVID-19 or otherwise. The school will be screening as well, checking and assessing students’ temperatures before they enter the building. 

“We will have the monitors at the school, and we also take temperatures at lunchtime as well, because we know things change [during] the day,” says Jones.  

The OKIB Education Services Department is taking all precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s important for students to remember, says Jones, that many parents are Elders and will be the most vulnerable to the transmission of the virus.

In addition, many community members have compromised immune systems, Jones explains. Therefore, setting disease prevention standards at a high level is crucial to the long-term health and wellbeing of all OKIB community members.

He says parents and caregivers should start teaching their children to wear and care for their masks as soon as possible, along with how to social distance, and why it will be important that they wash their hands every half hour for at least 20 seconds.

Penticton Indian Band

The Penticton Indian Band (PIB)’s Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School, located in Penticton, B.C., is scheduled to begin classes on Sept. 14.

Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School offers junior kindergarten to Grade 8 classes, along with a Nsyilxen Language and Culture Program for all students.

The PIB Education Centre provides the transition from secondary school to mainstream post-secondary institutes by providing upgrading where required, and allowing high-school students to attain credits for graduation. It includes Grades 10 to 12, and will also begin classes on Sept. 14.

Throughout the next week, emails will be sent to all parents regarding specific reopening protocols and safety measures for Outma and PIB Education Centre according to Outmas faceb page.

WestBank First Nation 

Westbank First Nation (WFN), located in West Kelowna, B.C., reopened most of its facilities in the community in late June

Those that are currently open include WFN’s Sportcourt, Sncəwips Heritage Museum, the health and wellness building, parks and beaches with sports fields for casual use only, with physical distancing measures in place.

These will also be in full effect for the reopening of WFN’s elementary school, sənsisyustən House of Learning, on Sept. 8. According to their website, the school and staff will be equipped to have in-person learning for all students this fall, but parents who would prefer to keep their children at home are welcome to do so.

The school will be practicing social distancing and healthy hygiene protocols, and opting for a “staggered start-up” following the first day of classes according to WFN website. 

Parents are encouraged to find alternate transportation for their children, but if students need to travel by bus, they will be assigned seats and must wear a mask throughout their commute. 

Students will be split into smaller learning groups throughout the day, and outdoor classrooms will be used whenever possible. There will be no extracurricular activities. 

A newsletter will be sent out to all parents clarifying some of the measures in place says WFN website. As with most schools, WFN notes that if a child is displaying symptoms, it is important to keep them at home. 

How other school districts are prepping for fall

For more details on individual safety plans, click through below to see how your child’s school district is preparing for the upcoming school year.


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