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‘Almost no protection’: Surrey teachers concerned about returning to school in B.C.

Safe Schools Coalition hosting Vancouver rally Aug. 14 for COVID-safe measures as Delta ramps up
Annie Ohana, a teacher at L.A. Matheson Secondary, teaches a Grade 8 class on Friday, March 12, 2021. Ohana is one of many teachers calling for another mask mandate in schools before the 2021-22 school year starts. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Going into the 2021-22 school year “doesn’t look like it’s going to be any less of a risk” than last September, says one Surrey school district teacher.

On Saturday, the Safe Schools Coalition BC will be holding a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s north plaza at 1 p.m., with parents, grandparents, teachers and education advocates calling for safer COVID-19 measures going into the new school year.

The group is demanding masks for all students and staff in school buildings, regardless of vaccination status; ventilation improvements; and quality remote options.

Annie Ohana, who will be taking part in the rally, said it “just became this reality of we need to step up and put our voice out there.”

“Are we going to be told to go back with almost no protection?” said Ohana, who is a teacher at Surrey’s L.A. Matheson Secondary which was in one of the city’s hotspots during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I mean we knew the delta variant was already around, but I guess the way it’s taken hold, especially of unvaccinated folks, the fact that it is a lot of younger folk, and that of course even though you’re vaccinated you can still transmit, you can still carry.”

The reality, she said, is “most of us still don’t know how school is going to look like,” such as if there will a quarter or semester system.

However, Ohana noted that she’ll be at a secondary school where she expects most students to be vaccinated.

That’s not the case for Lisa Singer, an inclusion support teacher at Coyote Creek Elementary.

Currently, only Pfizer-BioNTech is approved for those aged 12 and older.

READ ALSO: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada, May 5, 2021

READ ALSO: Moderna seeks Health Canada approval for kids as young as 12 to receive its vaccine, June 12, 2021

Singer said she feels “very anxious” about heading back to an elementary school after the summer as she expects “a lot of children will be unmasked.”

She said if a mask mandate were in place, more families seem to trust it.

“If it’s just a suggestion, then it seems like everything is safe.”

Singer said she’s hoping to attend the rally on Saturday, but asked if she thinks any additional measures will be put in place to start the school year, she doesn’t seem to think so.

“I would hope that there would be changes, but I have no real belief that there will be.”

It was in June that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced they would be scrapping the cohort idea and returning to a “near normal.” At the time, they said they would come back with an announcement on whether there would be masks.

READ ALSO: No cohorts as B.C. schools expected to return to ‘near normal’ this fall, June 17, 2021

Meantime, Lizanne Foster said there’s been “very little indication of a mask mandate” coming down from Henry.

Foster, a teacher at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, said the same concerns about ventilation, masking and overcrowded classrooms from last year is “dooming children to be impacted by delta.”

“We’ve said before, last year this time, the public health officer has very little idea of how schools work, especially overcrowded schools like in Surrey.”

READ ALSO: Surrey teacher hopes Ministry of Education will change return-to-school plan, July 31, 2021

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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