Courtesy Kahnawake 911
As teachers, students and parents prepare to return to classrooms next week, the Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) has implemented new safety measures as it braces for more positive cases at schools than ever before.
“With Omicron, we are telling parents and staff to expect positive cases. It is quite probable that it will occur more frequently than what we saw with Delta,” said the KEC director Robin Delaronde.
She explained that in addition to the health and safety measures that were already in place, the KEC has recommended the periodic opening of windows in classrooms to allow for better ventilation, especially during the lunch periods.
However, she specified that the schools in Kahnawake have excellent ventilation and have been rated highly.
“In those classrooms where staff have to be in close proximity or with individuals where they are in extra close proximity, shields or goggles will be provided to those staff who will also have to wear the masks in addition to that,” explained the director.
She said that KEC has also recommended that any opportunity for outdoor learning should be utilized and implemented into the school programming, especially for elementary students.
“In terms of parents, we are all well aware that our community members and students do not have access to the PCR tests any longer,” she said. “We really want to stress to parents that they really have to acquaint themselves with the procedures and guidelines that have been put out by our local Public Health.”
She said that parents need to know what the symptoms are and that if their child starts exhibiting symptoms, they must administer a rapid test if available. If they don’t have access to a rapid test, they must keep their child home, immediately advise the school and keep monitoring symptoms until they can acquire a rapid test.
“A lot of this is going to be parent awareness, relying a lot on the parents’ judgement and actions and parents to contact the schools and to let us know of the situation of their child,” said Delaronde.
As of January 17, most educators from the high school level will be back on-site. She said that KEC is assessing on-site staff attendance daily.
“For students at the secondary level at Kahnawake Survival School, staff have identified students who they recommended needed to be on-site so they will have small groupings next week,” she said.
Parents of those specific students have already been contacted, according to Delaronde.
The remainder of high school students will be online learning next week. As of January 24, the plan is to have different groupings or grade levels coming back gradually, she said.
“For elementary, we sent out a survey and called parents to find out their comfort level on whether they wanted their children to stay home for one or two more weeks, and we would have provided them with an online learning package,” explained the director.
According to the preliminary results obtained by the KEC, the majority of parents want their children back in school as of next Monday.
Delaronde said that KEC was surprised by the results, but it indicates that most parents are comfortable with the measures in place.
“The other thing is that parents have been through this before. Weighing the risk of COVID against their child’s well-being in terms of social, emotional and learning. It tells me that a lot of parents are realizing that the best place for their child right now is in school,” said Delaronde.
Moreover, Delaronde said that KEC adjusted some of the safety measures based on the parents’ responses. Additionally, on Thursday, KEC went over the guidelines and plan and the numbers they had access to with local Public Health to finalize everything in preparation for Monday.
“We will make a decision based on the situation in Kahnawake and in the province on what is the best for our elementary students next week,” she said.
KEC is also asking parents that have yet to sign the consent form that allows the school to administer rapid tests to students to do it as soon as possible.
“Although not 100 percent accurate, the rapid test is currently the only tool we have at our disposal at the schools,” said the director.
The director acknowledged that the staff and parents are concerned about returning to in-person learning because of the risks associated with Omicron.
“The message is that we need to prepare for positive cases and understand that this could happen. There is stress, and it’s about talking about the stress,” she said.
“But I have to say that even though we all speak about it in education, everyone knows that the schools are the best place for the children, but it is still stressful.”
Delaronde said that KEC has also identified staff who are part of the community wellness team. They are working in collaboration with other organizations and other service providers to develop a plan to support staff, parents and students during these trying times.
“We have to lean on other organizations like Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Sports and Recreation Unit, and the Kahnawake Youth Center,” said Delaronde.
“We have all been collaborating, and we will have to do so more than ever these coming months to support one another.”