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Okanagan school temporarily closes as teachers refuse to work, citing student mask exemptions

Initial ‘functional closure’ announced after teachers refuse work
School District 83 announced, due to a staffing shortage, a two-day functional closure of Armstrong Elementary on Jan. 14 and 17 was being extended to Jan. 21. (File photo )

A North Okanagan-Shuswap elementary school will remain closed for the week due to a staffing shortage.

School District 83 announced Monday, Jan. 17, that Armstrong Elementary School (AES) would remain closed throughout the week. This followed a Jan. 13 announcement from superintendent Donna Kriger that a “functional closure” of the school would occur Friday and Monday, Jan. 14 and 17, due to a shortage of staff and the inability of the school district to cover staff shortages.

“We were hopeful that a new week would result in new opportunities to have adequate staff within the school to support the instruction and safety of students,” said Kriger in a Jan. 17 letter shared on the AES website.

Kriger said the staffing shortage was caused by a “variety of reasons out of our control,” and the district is “unable to provide the required level of instruction, safety and supervision of our students.”

On Jan. 14 and 16 the school reported three of its staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. The dates of possible exposures at the school were between Jan. 10 and 12.

Prior to the initial functional closure announcement, North Okanagan-Shuswap Teachers Association president Graham Gomme informed the Observer via email that four teachers at Armstrong Elementary had signed a refusal of unsafe work claim through WorkSafeBC. Gomme explained this was in response to the high number of students with exemptions to the Provincial Health Order requirement to wear a mask in school. He said in one teacher’s class, seven out of 20 students haven’t been wearing masks.

Read more: High number of mask exemptions prompts teachers at North Okanagan elementary to refuse work

Read more: Two-day ‘functional closure’ announced for North Okanagan school after teachers refuse work

Kriger said remote learning opportunities would continue being offered to AES students until Jan. 21.

”I am fully aware of the many implications this decision has on families within the school community,” said Kriger. “I also understand this is creating some inconvenience and even hardship for some of you. Our hope and intent, continues to be to offer in person learning for our students.

“Rest assured we are continuing discussions regarding any potential solutions to address this situation. In the meantime, I have every confidence that the staff at Armstrong Elementary will continue to provide a positive and meaningful learning environment for your child(ren) through a remote setting.”

Kriger said an update on the situation at AES will be provided on Friday, Jan. 21.
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
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