Pembina Trails School Division develops novel way of contact tracing for students

A Winnipeg school division has developed a unique method of contact tracing in efforts to keep its schools coronavirus free.

Pembina Trails School Division is using a QR code system — developed by Fort Richmond Collegiate teacher/librarian Chantelle Rochon — that keeps track of where students have been and who they were near.

Superintendent Ted Fransen said it’s an important tool in keeping kids safe at a time when there’s a lot of concern on the part of educators, parents and the students themselves.

“The QR code system is an innovation we’re very proud of,” Fransen told 680 CJOB.

“Life in school, in Pembina Trails and probably across the province, is a mixed bag. There’s lots of anxiety and uncertainty about what’s coming next, but there also is a lot of enthusiasm for trying to be as normal as we can in terms of creating teaching and learning environments.

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“It’s a balancing act for sure.”

The system works by students using their smartphones to scan a code and ‘sign in’ to common areas, like a school library, so the school can track when they were there and where they were sitting via a spreadsheet, making it easy to follow a particular student’s contacts throughout the day in case of a COVID-19 case.

Fransen said the system is currently only being used in high schools, as the division’s K-8 students are using a cohort system so student whereabouts are already easily tracked and monitored.

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Fort Richmond principal Janet Gray said a big reason the system works is the buy-in from the entire school community when it comes to health and safety protocols during the pandemic.

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Gray’s fellow principal in the division, Oak Park High School’s Troy Scott, said it was a no-brainer for his school to adopt the technology.

“Part of our division is that we’re really collaborative,” Scott old 680 CJOB.

“When there’s great ideas, we share them, and when we heard about this QR code idea from Fort Richmond, we moved quickly to implement it.

“So for us, it’s in places like our cafeteria, our library — we even use QR codes for when our students are coming to participate in extracurricular activities after school.”

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Scott said students love the idea of being able to use their smartphones in school and have taken to the technology right away.

“We need to give them credit — they know how to use this technology often better than the adults do,” he said.

“They’re quick. They’re taking this very seriously… It’s gone very, very well.”

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