Head of School’s Weekly Message

January 7, 2022

Dear UA Parents,

Happy New Year everyone, I hope the break was good for you all.

As I am sure you are all aware, the pandemic has taken another turn as we start 2022. Omicron is the new variant that is taking all the headlines and that will undoubtedly impact UA in the weeks ahead. I am confident that the UA community will be as diligent in the days ahead as we have been throughout the pandemic. It is because of our collective efforts that UA has been able to maintain our educational programming as well as we have thus far. I am sure you are all like me in that you are getting tired of having to adjust, pivot, and change routines when it comes to everything about day-to-day life. But my hope is that if we can all pull together again over the next few weeks, we will come out the other side having maintained our educational program, with students learning alongside their classmates and teachers.

What we know is that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous variants, however, the resulting illness is milder than with previous ones. On a call with Fraser Health yesterday they emphasized that, overall, the pediatric cases of Omicron are quite mild, reflecting an upper respiratory illness similar to a cold. This is an important consideration as we are also aware that it is going to be impossible to keep Omicron out of our school. So what we all need to do is continue to practice the mitigation measures that have been successful for us to date, along with a few additional measures that the school will implement during this wave.

Please review UA’s Communicable Disease Plan which includes the updated guidance to schools which was sent out December 29, 2021. We will also re-establish some previously used mitigation measures beginning on Monday, January 10 which include the following:
– Strategies to reduce crowding during class transitions and break times
– Holding student assemblies and staff-only gatherings/meetings virtually
– Restricting access to visitors. Only those visitors who support activities that are of direct benefit to student learning and well-being and essential contractors will be permitted in the school building.
– Spectators at sporting events will not be permitted.

We will continue to expect all students and staff to maintain the mitigation measures that were in effect prior to the break including the following:
– Regular hand hygiene and respecting each other’s personal space
– Following proper mask etiquette while wearing a properly fitted mask in accordance with BCCDC guidelines
– Maximizing space between people and looking at reducing face-to-face seating arrangements when possible
– Minimizing the number of people in attendance at gatherings and events
– Only allowing school sports practices and single games during the month of January. Tournament play has been suspended at this time.
– All students and staff will continue to be expected to perform daily health checks, stay home when sick, and follow Public Health recommendations.

Contact tracing and self-management: Fraser Health has indicated that the anticipated volume of exposures and confirmed cases, plus the speed at which Omicron spreads, make contract tracing and notification ineffective and futile at controlling the spread. These previous tools used by the Health Authority will now be replaced with self-management. This means that each person/family is responsible to determine if they can pass the daily health check before coming into school every day.

Individuals with symptoms: Symptomatic students and staff must isolate at home for at least 5 days from the start of symptoms for fully vaccinated individuals, and at least 10 days for those not fully vaccinated (two vaccine doses), and until their symptoms have improved, and until any fever has resolved for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Continue to isolate for longer if you have a fever or are not feeling better.

Individuals who are exposed: Students or staff who come into close contact with an infected person are required to self-monitor for 14 days if double-vaccinated and to isolate for 10 days if unvaccinated. This includes students who do not have a second dose of the vaccine at this time.

Absences: If your child will be away from school please email and indicate the reason for absence – ie. confirmed positive for COVID, isolating due to symptoms (not tested), close contact to a positive case, or even reasons such as appendicitis. This will help us to track what is happening in the school in regards to COVID. This data will help us plan accordingly and communicate with Fraser Health if necessary.

Potential for school closures: Our goal is to keep the school open and to have students learning in their classrooms with their peers and teachers. This is what is best for student learning, social-emotional development, and overall well-being. The more we can keep things routine at school the better. Should the need arise due to staff shortages, we may need to reorganize classes or shift to remote learning for a few days. We will provide as much notification as possible. I will be very reluctant to implement a schoolwide functional closure, but as we have done previously, there may be a need to have a few classes or cohorts work remotely if the situation requires it.

As always, our hope is to provide a safe place for students and staff to come to learn and work. Please continue to practice the mitigation measures that we are all familiar with and consider getting your vaccines and booster shots as soon as you or your children are eligible.

I am optimistic that these restrictions will be short-lived, and we will begin to shift to COVID being endemic and something that we learn to live with going forward. However, I anticipate the next few weeks to be quite challenging and I would like to thank you in advance for your support as we guide the school through these uncharted waters.

Yours in education,

Mr. Slinger

Posted on: January 7, 2022