FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Unofficial numbers show a noticeable increase in students registered in School District 60 schools this year.

Superintendent Stephen Petrucci says the increase is spread throughout the district, and it’s not just a return of former students that shifted to home learning last year.

“We’re estimating about 100 more students than we had projected, and we’ll have those final numbers at the end of September,” said Petrucci. “It’s a combination of families returning that may have taken other options last year, as well as what appears to be some in-migration to the region.”

In addition to having more students in the schools, Petrucci says there’s a different feel in the buildings this year.

“The atmosphere is really positive. Both the students and the staff are really happy about the fact that there are no more cohorts or learning groups. That sort of freedom to schedule and be with their friends is very positive.”

While there is more freedom to move about the school, Petrucci says all the health protocols and guidelines are being followed. What he says isn’t getting enough attention is the number of upgrades to ventilation systems.

“The ventilation systems along with the specialized filters are operational and in place in every school.”

Specialized MERV filters are changed out every three months, rather than every six months, providing another level of defense against possible virus transmission.

Petrucci says, with the increase in students, they’ve added four teachers.

“We’ve added four divisions, or four teachers, to our teaching complement in the schools. We’ve added a division to Upper Pine, Baldonnel, Duncan Cran and Charlie Lake. The uptake is mostly consistent across the district for both urban and rural schools.”

While the Province announced the re-introduction of COVID-19 school exposure notices this week, Petrucci says the details of what that may look like have not been relayed to him yet.

“What’s critical is that Northern Health, and health in general, has a plan around communicable diseases, whatever that disease is, and people directly affected are being contacted. Whatever process comes out, staff and families in the community are working very well with it, and we’ll adjust as we have done so far.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said a new system is expected to be in place to inform parents and teachers of COVID-19 exposures in schools by the end of this week.

“We have asked our team to get together right now to make sure that we can notify schools in a timely, less intrusive and more sustainable way and that parents will have access to that information rapidly,” she said.