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Public health changes lead to school gyms opening in qathet region

With new regulations in place, School District 47 will respond
henderson-elementary-school-powell-river (1)
PUBLIC USE: School District 47 will be adjusting its policy, based on easing public health restrictions, for public use of district facilities, such as in local schools like Henderson Elementary School.

School District 47 (SD47) is making adjustments in opening qathet region school facilities such as gymnasiums to public use.

At the February 16 Powell River Board of Education meeting, chairperson Dale Lawson, in response to correspondence from Powell River resident Vivian Thickett about school gym user groups, said the school district had made a decision to open the former Oceanview school, and superintendent of schools Dr. Jay Yule is having conversations with SD47 school principals.

“In light of recent changes, there’s going to be many adjustments moving forward,” said Lawson.

Trustee Brendan Behan asked if the issue could be revisited at the next committee of the whole or board meeting.

“It’s an important topic because of the access to gyms by different team sports and adult sports as well,” said Behan.

Lawson said the decision to open Oceanview was made a while back and at the same time Yule was instructed to talk to school principals.

Yule said most schools are comfortable with public use. He said one of the pieces that will be needed for sports is determining whether parents or people come into the stands.

“Otherwise, we anticipate opening it up,” said Yule.

SD47 secretary treasurer Steve Hopkins said the gymnasium issue was explored by the board of trustees in January, before Thickett’s correspondence arrived, because of the extra measures put in place because of the Omicron variant. He said with the provincial announcement on February 15, the communication that had been provided to school principals is that on February 22, all of those additional measures were gone and that schools are back to the guidelines that were in place prior to Christmas.

“Just based on that, I would expect it would be open to some use of the schools,” said Hopkins. “An example is club volleyball wants to start back up. Unlike soccer, the only place to play is in school gyms. All the club people are also our students in the first place, so it’s a bit of semantics.

“That also paves the way for the events that we put on hold at the Max Cameron Theatre, such as the Banff film festival, which is scheduled for the spring.”

Behan said Yule would be checking in with each school leadership group and if some are not comfortable with it, at some point, the board has to make a decision to open up completely or not.

“It’s maybe a board decision,” he added. “At some point it’s not just up to the principal in place.”

Yule said the principals were happy to be opening up.

“That definitely will happen,” added Yule.

In her correspondence, dated January 20, Thickett had asked SD47 to reconsider its decision to keep all local school gyms closed for an indefinite period of time. Thickett stated that the restrictions issued on January 18 from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry allowed gyms to be open.

“To keep our local gyms inaccessible to all user groups is overcautious, to say the least,” stated Thickett. “The school board’s choice to keep school gyms closed seems to violate the latest provincial health orders. I respectfully request that all our school gyms in School District 47 be reopened as soon as possible.”