September 18, 2020
Dear First Nation Schools and Communities:
To support First Nations continuing to plan for their school reopening, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) are providing information on recent updates to the available public health guidance for K-12 school settings, including changes that First Nations should take into consideration while planning for and implementing the delivery of in-class instruction. These updates will soon be included in a revised version of FNESC/FNSA’s First Nation Schools Reopening Considerations and Template resource, which will then be re-distributed to schools and communities.
The following resources containing health and safety considerations for K-12 schools have been updated:
- The BC Centre for Disease Control’s (BCCDC) COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 School Settings. A summary of these changes provided by BCCDC is also available. Important update: See the BCCDC Addendum (March 30, 2021) for significant changes to mask and face covering guidance.
- The BC Ministry of Education’s Provincial Health Guidelines for K-12 Settings
These updates clarify expectations on public and non-First Nation independent schools. First Nations and First Nation schools are advised to consider this new information in developing or updating their school reopening plan.
Highlights of updates to the BCCDC’s COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 School Settings are as follows:
- Further details have been provided about physical distancing, including the goal of reducing close, prolonged face to face interaction within a Learning Group/cohort and maintaining at least 1 to 2 metres when members of different Learning Groups/cohorts are interacting.
- The BCCDC is advising that all adult visitors to the school should wear a non-medical mask when in the school and unable to practice physical distancing. In general, the BCCDC is placing stronger emphasis on the use of non-medical masks.
- Students and staff who experience cold/flu symptoms consistent with a previously diagnosed health condition can continue to attend school when they are experiencing these symptoms as normal.
- Water fountains where a person drinks directly from the spout should be used minimally and only if no other means of water access are available.
- Privacy remains a vital consideration and any communications and follow-up about possible or confirmed COVID-19 cases should occur under the direction of public health officials.
- Updated information on the actions public health will take in the event that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school community are included in Appendix B: Public Health Actions if a Staff, Student or Other Person Who Has Been in the School is a Confirmed COVID-19 Case.
- Additional considerations for school meal programs and other food access initiatives are included in Appendix D: Supplementary Guidance for School Meal Programs.
Important updates to the BC Ministry of Education’s Provincial Health Guidelines for K-12 Settings are as follows:
- Regarding mask requirements for staff, the Ministry has added that “Exceptions will be made for staff who cannot wear masks for medical and/or disability related reasons.”
- In addition to recommending regular maintenance of school HVAC systems, the Ministry is also recommending that schools with recycled/recirculated air systems upgrade their current filters to a minimum MERV 13 filter or higher if possible, and schools with fresh air intake systems increase their average air exchanges.
- A Staff Orientation Checklist was added. An editable version from FNESC and FNSA adapted for First Nation schools is available at http://www.fnesc.ca/covid19/orientation-checklist/.
- Schools must ensure that visitors are aware of health and safety protocols and requirements prior to entering the school, such as physical distancing and mask requirements (strengthened from “should ensure” in the previous version).
FNESC and FNSA fully respect the authority of individual First Nations to make decisions about school operations in the best interests of their students, schools, and communities, and we further recognize that a number of schools will opt to remain fully or partially closed. First Nations are under no obligation to reopen their schools. You can find all of our organizational updates and resources on our COVID-19 information page.