Original Published on Sep 23, 2022 at 22:50

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Winnipeg father says he regrets sending his child on a sleep-away field trip, after several of his son’s classmates became ill with COVID-19 upon their return, and he wants school administrators to rethink lax pandemic protocols.

Earlier this month, St. John’s-Ravenscourt School resumed camp outings, among other activities that had been on hiatus since March 2020.

One parent of a junior high student said the decision to promote 24-7 mingling over multiple days in cabins away from home was a mistake.

“We’re supposed to learn to live with it. The first word there is ‘learning,’ rather than just revert back to how it was before the pandemic,” he said.

The father — who agreed to an interview on the condition he wouldn’t be identified so his son would not face retribution at school — said he knows of at least eight students who have become sick in the wake of the recent trip.

While he said families started “swapping notes” amongst themselves late last week, school leaders did not address the situation in any formal way.

At the start of the 2022-23 school year, administration welcomed families back with a notice that nodded to generic provincial guidelines.

“It’s, like, total head in the sand, everything is back to normal (behaviour),” the father said.

Parents picking up their children at the campus at 400 South Dr. one recent afternoon were surprised to learn of a cluster of positive cases in the middle school because administrators had not sent out a notice about the matter.

One Grade 6 student, however, said he was well-aware of the situation, given half of his peers were absent from school after the days-long trip.

“There’s a lot of COVID right now. Even our teacher got (sick),” said the boy, who wasn’t on the trip because of another commitment.

As a precautionary measure, the SJR father who said he feels guilty for sending his son on the trip indicated his family decided to keep their junior high-aged child, who remains healthy, at home this week taking frequent rapid tests.

The cases should be a wake-up call to review and “recalibrate,” as far as he is concerned.

The school’s deputy head of academics said SJR encourages community members to monitor for novel coronavirus symptoms daily, follow the fundamentals of infection-prevention practice — including covering coughs and sneezes — consult medical practitioners on vaccination and follow provincial guidance on mask use.

“Like all schools in Manitoba, this academic year we are focusing on a return to normal routines and activities as we all live to learn with COVID,” Jenny Wright said in an email.

The senior administrator said the Winnipeg school has rigorously followed public health protocols throughout the last 21/2 years.

The health, safety and well-being of students, staff and visitors remains a priority, Wright said, adding the school is fortunate to have “an efficient ventilation system that provides excellent air circulation.”

It is not lost on the middle school father the institution’s policy on peanut allergies seems to be stricter than its policy on COVID-19.

“I think the school, particularly one of privilege and wealth, should be going above and beyond and not striving for the bare minimum. They could put HEPA air purifiers in every classroom if they really wanted to,” he said, noting his family has made lifestyle changes owing to fears about the unknowns of long COVID.

Annual tuition for non-boarding students in Grade 6 and up ranges from $23,000 to $25,800.

During the height of the pandemic, the school enforced social distancing and mandatory masking, rotated recesses and held virtual assemblies.

The father wants leaders to, at the very least, inform families about the September cases and find out what they think about the current measures. It would be “almost negligent” not to do so, he said.

In response to an inquiry about whether any schools have contacted public-health officials about non-attendance or positive cases this month, a provincial spokesperson said such information is unavailable.

“Schools have returned to regular practices regarding the monitoring of absenteeism,” the spokesperson said, adding K-12 leaders should emphasize the need for individuals to screen for virus symptoms and stay home when sick.

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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