NOVEMBER 2, 2021
Greetings KCS Community,

Two weeks ago, I was able to share the story of the Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-27) with our elementary students at chapel. Several grade 12s joined, dressed as a camel trying to go through a needle. My favourite verse from this story is the beginning of Mark 10:21, "Jesus looked at the young man, and He loved him." This is Christ. An integral part of acting Christ-like is to love others. Love can mean many different things, but in recent weeks, it has been on my heart to focus on love to fight division. Jesus gave the rich young man a counter-cultural message that the man could not immediately receive (I like to imagine that the man did sell his possessions afterward, but that is my fanfiction). Jesus still loved him. I love this. God speaks to us and His love for us through 1189 chapters of His infallible word. Our Messiah is amazing. 
We Have Far More in Common Than Not: Our God is Faithful
For nearly two years, I have communicated the need to remain faithful and steadfast on our affinity of Jesus amidst all of the polarization and division from Covid. We are a multi-denominational school community of over 450 families. Each family's supper table has its own set of values, political opinions, and beliefs. The diversity of our faith-based community can help us grow. Conversation, civil discourse, a seek-first-to-understand approach, prayer, discernment, and leaning on the scriptures are ways we can be steadfast in Christ and community and think differently on specific topics. Amidst division, we have the following sacred things in common:

  1. The Bible is the infallible word of God (2 Timothy 3:16)
  2. God is sovereign over every square centimeter of the world (Colossians 1:16-17)
  3. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins (John 3:16)
  4. Bonus: Our God is always faithful, grows us through trials (James 1:1-13), and has big plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 33:11)

Unfortunately, I feel the Covid divide is further polarizing our school community. In writing the following paragraphs, I think that some will read it as not being cautious enough, while others will believe that it is too careful. I feel deeply called to serve at KCS, but Covid communication is often seen as a no-win. Please know that I am trying to listen and hear all voices as I write. Please know that I am trying to listen to all in our community as I lead, alongside our school board, in His school. Please know I am praying continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
While we are within the norm of our neighbouring Christian and independent schools, there is a growing community tension around the number of mask exemptions in our school. On the flip side, some of our exempt students feel singled out or excluded by their peers. The school receives concerns daily. Also, there is a parental feeling of helplessness or lack of control every time a KCS exposure notice appears on Castanet. Because of these things, I spent the past two weeks connecting with the IHA, re-reading all of the current Health Order and BCCDC protocols, and met with the Executive Director of the Federation of Independent Schools. Below, I address some of the concerns we regularly hear from all spectrums. 

We are asked to be gracious in all facets of Covid. We have committed to not infringing on family supper tables, partnering with home and church without overstepping. We are not adding or subtracting from the orders and protocols given to us. We have done this well. However, I need to remind our families that we remain committed to health and safety and do so with mutual respect (a form of love). Without adding rules, we may need to tighten up some of the areas of health and safety while continuing to show care to all learners. We are bound by grace, but we still must have clear expectations within the rules at hand. We have decided not to defy any health orders, which include care and inclusion for all learners. 

I thought I would pass along a few excerpts from our current health order and BCCDC guidelines. Portions of this are paraphrased, but for the most part, it is verbatim. I am sharing our limitations as we consider how to ensure safety. Our orders and mandates are also filled with excellent suggestions for staff and admin to encourage safety in the classroom. We will be processing these as a leadership team. 

Mask Use for Students in BC Schools (the Guidelines we Must Adhere to):

  • Masks have a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19, by helping to stop the spread of droplets from a person's mouth and nose when talking, laughing, yelling, or sneezing

  • Masks provide protection to the person wearing them and to those around them

  • No student should be prevented from attending or fully participating in school if they are not wearing a mask

  • Exceptions to the mask policy include: A person who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons

  • Staff, students and visitors are not required to provide a doctor's note if they cannot wear a mask.

  • Schools continue to be encouraged to support student mask use through positive and inclusive approaches, and not punitive or enforcement activities that exclude students from fully participating in school or that could result in stigma.

  • Considerations suggested by the guidelines: 

  • If the issue relates to having to wear a mask all day, can the person wear a mask during face-to-face classroom activities and hallway transitions but be able to take the mask off while working alone at their desk/workstation?

  • At a minimum, the person should be reminded that they must still follow all other required safety measures while at school (e.g. physical distancing, daily health checks, frequent hand hygiene, etc.)

  • A mask-exempt student may be willing to increase physical distance from others, provided that doing so does not result in them being isolated or excluded.

IHA let me know that we have had community concerns about the number of mask exemptions at KCS presented to them in recent weeks. IHA encouraged me to message more on other significant protocols, including daily health checks, staying home when sick, hand cleaning, and sensible distancing. IHA encourages schools not to get lost in mask tensions, as they are happening everywhere and are unsolvable with the above guidelines. With this said, mask exemptions make a significant number of our families nervous, and, alternatively, many other children feel excluded. I ask that all families and children remain mindful of these points (from KCS):

  • We ask for mutual respect and understanding with mask use. Those who are mask exempt need to be respectful that this makes some staff and students nervous. They should maintain all other health and safety measures. Conversely, students wearing masks must not make students with exemptions feel isolated, excluded, or segregated. Students and non-administrative staff are asked not to be the mask police. Mask exemptions are just that, exemptions, and are vetted by our campus leaders. 

  • We ask that no student boasts about their vaccine or non-vaccine status, helping keep this a private, family choice.   

Our campus leaders are calling homes and giving a "heads up" when any of the above occurs. There are many examples of broken telephone and hyperbolizing right now, so it is not a discipline issue, but a casual heads up to help us be in community together. A heads up is simply a heads up; I don't want anyone getting lost in the details of a heads up. There tends to be some truth in a story, and I call on all families to support our Christian community in their response to a heads up. We are all in this together and we can navigate through these times together.
You most certainly have noticed that we have had our share of Covid exposures and Covid clusters already this year. While I am not permitted to elaborate in detail, I can say that I learn a lot each time and I am always impressed to learn that our protocols help prevent further exposures. I can also say that the campus leader in each case has done tremendous work behind the scenes getting the needed information into the IHA's hands. 

This year's system of identifying and communicating cases is far less "global" in allowable school communication. I am not permitted to send a campus-wide letter to staff or families unless instructed to do so by the IHA. We have sent out some exposure notices this year, and I am constantly giving feedback to the IHA on their process. I find it difficult not to communicate exposures to larger community chunks, but I need to follow the guidelines. I have also learned that reacting to a situation is not the best course of action during Covid. What you receive from the school is simply a forward from IHA; we don't adapt. We do ask all families to remember we have an amazing God that we need to lean on at all times (Proverbs 3:5-6). Below is some current information from the BCCDC on Covid communication.

  • When a potential exposure at a school is identified, public health will work with the school to understand who may have been exposed and determine what actions should be taken, including identifying if other students or staff have been exposed.

  • Close contacts are notified by IHA and informed of what subsequent actions they should take (e.g., monitor for symptoms, self-isolate, seek testing, etc.) as they may be at risk for communicable diseases, such as COVID-19.
  • To ensure personal privacy rights are maintained, public health will only disclose a confirmed case of a communicable disease if the person was infectious when they attended school. Public health will only provide the personal information needed to support effective contact tracing.
  • The school will only communicate to the greater community when asked to do so by the regional health authority.
  • Public health will send general notification letters to the broader school community or post the information to Regional Health Authority websites if it is necessary for contact tracing or outbreak management, in line with notification practices for other community and workplace settings.

  • General notifications are typically provided to those who are at greater risk for communicable disease and need to take subsequent actions beyond continuing to follow general public health recommendations.

  • School administrators or staff should not provide notifications to staff or students' families about potential or confirmed communicable diseases cases (including COVID-19) unless the school administrator is directed to do so by the school medical officer. School Administrators are to follow processes outlined in COVID-19 Protocols for School and District.

Repeating myself, Kelowna Christian School will follow all Provincial Health, BCCDC, and Ministry of Education orders. We will not add rules, nor will we defy an order. A family's Covid vaccination status is not Kelowna Christian School's business at this time. All health and safety protocols, including those who enter our school, are in place to maximize health and safety. We are aware that an IHA notice that asks non-vaccinated staff or students to stay home can feel like it "outs" a staff member’s or student’s vaccination status. I am in communication with the health authority about this. However, if we remain committed to honouring supper tables, we trust that our community will show mutual respect for the diversity of our faith-based supper tables.
Covid protocols have allowed for a gradual return to having parents and community members in our school. One family member has been able to cheer children on in live sports, hot lunch volunteers are back, and there has and will be a live option for parent-teacher conferences. Current IHA-specific guidelines limit our ability to gather as a larger group. Still, we are committed to gradually reopening our school to our community as these regional guidelines lessen. Our Hospitality Committee has been tasked to engage all school families, and I believe you will see their work to keep us connected, face-to-face, soon. 
Communities are tired. Communities are weary. Communities feel a loss of control. Because of this, I know "broken telephone" conversations can create hyperbole. Above, I mention that campus leaders will continue to follow up on potential hot spots of supper table infringement. Our campus leaders will follow up with students and their families when a child might be pushing a political opinion on others (from all spectrums). Campus leaders might only have some facts when they call, but we do want to be more proactive in ensuring all staff and students feel safe and that strong opinions on Covid (again, all spectrums) are not infringing on other supper tables. We want to ensure our communication is God and student honoring. Campus leaders will not follow up with disciplinary action but will pass along a confidential heads up to foster mutual respect and let home be home. If restoration is necessary, we will follow a Biblical process (Matthew 18) with those involved. 

Our leadership team will do a full review of all health and safety guidelines in the coming weeks. 
The described tensions are not unique to Kelowna Christian School; this happens in every school (and church) that I connect with. While many communities are cracking, I know our God is awesome, and I know we can glorify our Lord as we work to draw our children nearer to our Lord. I am looking forward to leading through this, reminding our community to remain steadfast in Christ and avoid division. I pray that God will reveal himself to us often, just like he did for Cleopas on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). He is always beside us. 

I am so thankful for our community as we navigate through this in-between. Our students have come to school each day, working with us to turn limitations into opportunities. Our staff has gone above and beyond, finding those added things to make things as normal as possible. Our sports teams are traveling across BC, representing our school in various provincial championships. Alongside this, academics, the arts, and applied skills are helping show our students the big plans that God has for them (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 33:11). Our leaders spend countless extra hours ensuring that we remain centered on mission and vision, from chapels to service, to safety. I am thankful for the providence of being surrounded by such an amazing team at such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Please continue to pray for our staff, our leaders, our students, and our community to grow as disciples, to find their strength in our Lord (Habakkuk 3:19), and to do all we do for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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