No timeout for COVID: school’s open house cancelled

Just when parents thought they would be allowed back inside a Winnipeg elementary school after more than two years of being banned due to COVID-19, the virus is again stalling a beloved back-to-school tradition.

École Sun Valley School in River East informed families this week they would have to wait to attend an open house due to an increase in illness in the community.

“I’m conflicted because sometimes I want restrictions, because I don’t want my kids to get sick — but they are kids and they want normal life, (so) I think it’s good there are no restrictions, no masks,” said Meerim Dzhidebaeva, a mother of two school-aged boys.

Dzhidebaeva said she was looking forward to getting to know her children’s teachers this week and seeing inside the Grade 1 and 4 classrooms in which they will spend the majority of the 2022-23 school year studying numeracy and literacy.

Asked about whether administrators made the right decision to delay the event until October, she said it has been difficult to make the “right” call since March 2020. “It’s our first pandemic and we don’t know how to do ‘right,’” the mother said.

In a notice sent to caregivers on Wednesday, principal Mario Beauchamp and vice-principal Tracey Lintott indicated they had become aware of a number of presumed COVID-19 cases in recent days.

As a result, the open house was postponed by one week “out of an abundance of caution,” they wrote.

University of Manitoba researcher Christine Van Winkle said event planners have always grappled with cancellations, but last-minute calls due to concerns about safety and weather have become increasingly common in recent years.

“We have been very lucky in the past… Prior to the pandemic, maybe we had a sense that cancellations were quite rare and so, we didn’t necessarily hold that expectation,” said Van Winkle, a professor of recreation management who has been studying event cancellations throughout the pandemic.

Given COVID-19 is here to stay, event-goers should temper their expectations by acknowledging cancellation is always a possibility, while organizers should take an “all hazards approach” when planning and ensure they provide clear communication about possible changes.

The Sun Valley bulletin urged community members who become ill with the virus or start showing symptoms to: isolate for five days upon onset of sickness or receipt of a positive test result; return to class only when a fever is nonexistent and symptoms are improving; and wear a mask in public for an additional five days. No information about case numbers has been released.

The River East Transcona School Division confirmed the K-5 building alerted public health officials about an increase in absenteeism due to illness. Operational adjustments are now made on a case-by-case basis.

“We are continuing to follow public health guidance around mask use. We are a mask-friendly division with both masks and rapid antigen tests available for all students and staff,” said Amanda OVERSET FOLLOWS:Gaudes, senior communications co-ordinator at the division, in an email.

At drop-off early Thursday, grandmother Nadine Scholl said her family anticipated a surge in cases would occur once K-12 students and staff returned to in-class learning without a mask mandate intact.

Scholl’s daughter, who is a teacher, and her three grandchildren at Sun Valley all tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

Citing the importance of protecting vulnerable people, the retired nurse said she is a proponent of mask and vaccine mandates, as well as the release of more data. It is difficult to make informed decisions about one’s risk if institutions don’t release information about clusters and outbreaks, she said.

“Nowhere is giving any information, period. You don’t hear it from the government. My dad’s in a nursing home, there is an outbreak there and we’re getting very little information in terms of how much staff is off… so I’m not surprised that the schools are giving (out little information) because that’s the culture out there: ‘If you hide it, it goes away,’” Scholl said.

The Louis Riel School Division is the only metro board that updates public dashboards with self-reported cases, but even leaders in southeast Winnipeg have scaled back what they report as Manitoba touts a “return to normal.”

“As we move toward a post-pandemic world, the plan is to eventually phase out the dashboards; however, there is no plan in the immediate future to remove this information from our website,” said communications manager Taylor Fenn, in an email.

Approximately 0.5 per cent of LRSD learners disclosed their absence on Thursday was related to COVID-19. That daily figure peaked during the Omicron wave, when nearly five per cent of K-12 students across the division were absent in late January.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press