An Open Letter to Ethan (and his Classmates)
On the heels of our decision to open some of our schools last week, several high school students wrote a version of this letter below to me:
Dear Dr. Godden,
On behalf of several students in the Abby school district, we would like to request that you close the school district completely for the remainder of the week as well as thank you for your prompt decision making in this unfortunate situation.
We understand that it must be a very difficult decision to make, and no choice will make everybody happy but below are our reasons to close the schools. For starters although many students use school as a safe place, we think that with many families split apart or trapped across the highways far more students will benefit from being at home with their families. Not to mention that there are far better uses for these institutes, in these trying times with many of Abbotsford and the whole Fraser Valleys citizens out of their homes and sorely in need of a place to stay. We also believe that the schools are not being at their most productive with over half the class missing in some cases, resulting in the teachers not going with the curriculum and most of the kids who did show up to school being very unproductive. Many of those students who did not come to school are stuck at home taking care of siblings whose schools are closed and parents still have jobs. Those students do not need the added stress of their attendance being hurt on top of all the other stressors going on at the moment.
I know some in our community questioned last week's decision as well, so I thought to share my response to the students with a broader audience to provide some context for how decisions like this are made:
Dear Ethan (and Classmates),
First of all, let me thank you for your letter. We should all be comforted to know that we live in a place where you can freely advocate for what you believe to be good and right. Let me also thank you for acknowledging the ravages of the flooding and its devastating impacts, particularly on families living on the Sumas Prairie. You are correct that it is not an easy decision. Many people spent hours discussing the various factors before finally settling on this course of action.
By way of answering your question, let me share three principles which guide our decision-making in emergency situations.
1. Safety First. We have to ensure that our students and staff are safe and that we can safely operate our schools and not worsen the situation. In this case, we had to coordinate with the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), which includes the City of Abbotsford, Fire Rescue Service and Police Department. They coordinate the emergency response for situations such as this. We confer with them to ensure that we support their efforts, and specifically that we do not confound their work. From their perspective, a plan to re-start instruction needed to limit traffic and congestion east of Sumas Way and potentially help them by ensuring we supported the childcare needs of first responders. The EOC supported our plan to open schools on the west side of the community.
2. Comfort in Continuity. It might sound counterintuitive, but another principle is that in crisis, stability and routine help those affected as well as those who feel like helpless onlookers. We have learned through dealing with many crises that the sooner we can normalize operations the better it is for the community, especially students. The initial onset of the COVID 19 pandemic reinforced this message. This was part of the reason we brought students back to school the spring (2019). It provides comfort to families to have students in the care of loving adults who can help them process the crisis and potentially begin to help by supporting those less fortunate. For instance, to support the relief effort the Foods Class in your school decided yesterday to prepare sandwiches for the Food Bank. Yes, this is stressful, but it is even more stressful if you cannot re-establish routine and engage your mind. The fact that you are in school and writing me your letters is helpful; you are doing something, engaging your mind and heart. This is also true for adults. Your parents need routine. We all need routine. Schools are great at routine.
3. Choice is Best. Another decision parameter for our team is to give families a choice to have their children attend school or not. Schools are most beneficial to the community when they are open and staffed, and this gives your parents the most choice. It is not lost on us that the parents, particularly of young children, rely on us to keep their children so that they may go to work and feed their families… and also tend to other emergent issues in this case. I also personally believe that our schools are places of hope for families. Children in the presence of peers and loving adults breed confidence that our society will be well.
After looking at these factors, our District's Crisis Response Team decided that we needed to address several logistical issues such as staffing, transportation, and communication. With over 20,000 students spread across 46 schools, it was determined that several solutions would be needed depending on where you lived in the city. It was for this reason we closed some schools, opened some to online learning and opened others to face-to-face instruction. I hope this helps you understand why we think this is the best decision under these circumstances.
Let’s keep pulling together to get through this.
Dr. K. Godden