FILE – Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back-to-school Thursday, September 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

FILE – Children walk with their parents to Sherwood Park Elementary in North Vancouver for the first day back-to-school Thursday, September 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

BCTF blasts ‘one size fits all’ school COVID plan, calls for transparency from Henry, Dix

Most students returned from the winter holiday break on Jan. 4

On the heels of a series of new outbreaks and exposures announced in schools province-wide, the B.C. teachers’ union has asked the government to increase COVID protection measures in schools.

In a letter sent to staff Monday (Jan. 4), B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said she had met with newly appointed Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside over the winter break to brief her on teachers’ concerns.

“We spoke about the need for more transparent data on COVID-19 in schools, the imperative to improve prevention measures like mask wearing and physical distancing,” Mooring wrote.

“I also raised concerns about the problems with contact tracing and the inconsistent communications coming out from health officials.”

Although public health officials have repeatedly said that the risk of in-school transmission is low, Mooring said that the current strategy doesn’t allow teachers, support staff or parents to assess their own personal risk and safety levels.

“Withholding data has also created a sense of mistrust and a great deal of online speculation that doesn’t help keep anyone safe,” she said. Mooring called for comprehensive public reporting that could include the current number of COVID cases among staff, students and teachers, the number of classes that have had to self-isolate and a list of school closures, the number of in-school transmissions and “clear definitions and rationale for using terms like exposure, cluster, outbreak, and closure.”

The province does not currently release data on the number of school students who have been infected with the virus. However, according to B.C. Centre for Disease Control data, 2,228 children under the age of 10 and 4,918 children and teens aged 10 to 19 have contracted COVID so far. There have been a total of 54,201 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. as of Monday afternoon.

READ MORE: B.C. records 2,211 new COVID cases, 45 deaths over New Year’s Eve long weekend

In a 12-page brief prepared for Whiteside, the BCTF brought forward 30 recommendations largely stemming from transparency issues, the need for more protective measures and how to make sure that no students are left behind.

The union asked the province to review the K–12 Restart Plan, introduced this summer, and bring in enhanced health and safety measures upon return from winter and spring breaks.

The BCTF again brought up the issue of masks, which are mandatory only for middle and high school students in “high traffic areas.”

“Proper physical distancing in many classrooms is impossible due to the limitations of space,” the union stated, adding that it recommends “an expanded expectation of mask-wearing in education worksites,” especially after return from breaks.

READ MORE: ‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

“Fundamental measures for protection used in other sectors, such as physical distancing, physical barriers such as plexiglass, and masks to name a few, are not being implemented consistently in the K–12 sector,” the briefing to the education minister stated.

In her letter to staff, Mooring emphasized that a “one size fits all” approach is not working in B.C. Multiple schools in the province, in the Lower Mainland as well as the Okanagan, have been forced to shut down due to staffing issues caused by rampant transmission.

While currently, there are no active school exposures listed on health authority websites, more than a dozen schools had students isolating over winter break. These schools include Osoyoos Secondary School and Penticton Secondary School in the Okanagan, two schools in Terrace in northern B.C. and most recently the news that nearly 50 cases of COVID were reported between five classes at Earl Marriott Secondary in Surrey.

READ MORE: 50 cases of COVID-19 linked to five classes at Earl Marriott Secondary

READ MORE: Health officials to ‘re-look’ at PE protocols after nearly 50 infected at Earl Marriott

“A massive outbreak like this should be the lesson that they finally take seriously,” Mooring wrote of the Surrey school outbreak.

In the briefing for the education minister, the BCTF called for reducing classroom density, especially in harder hit regions.

The BCTF also called for the suspension of the foundations skills assessments and the graduation numeracy and literacy Assessments. The union said that students who were unable to learn in the classroom during the pandemic should be provided with “full-time remote learning by teachers assigned solely to remote learning.” Those students, the union added, should remain enrolled at their current schools.

READ MORE: B.C. teachers’ union calls on Horgan to limit Fraser Health class sizes to 15 students


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A tow truck works to pull a dump truck from a ditch at 176 Street and 40 Avenue, following a two-vehicle incident Tuesday (Jan. 19) afternoon. (Aaron Hinks photo)
PHOTOS: Dump truck, car collide in South Surrey

Intersection – 176 Street and 40 Avenue – was site of 2019 fatal collision

An electric vehicle charging station in front of Hope’s municipal hall, district hall. (Photo: Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
40 electric vehicle charging stations planned for Surrey

Funding coming from all three levels of government

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building for 1485 Fir St. (Contributed rendering)
Majority voice support for 80-unit rental redevelopment in White Rock

Resident fearful of being priced out of the city, council told at public hearing

Police on the scene of a homicide in South Surrey’s Morgan Heights neighbourhood earlier this month. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Crime Stoppers received more than 500 tips related to gang activity in 2020: report

Metro Vancouver organization “urging local residents to keep providing anonymous tips”

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A child joins the Uke ‘n Play kickoff event at the Chilliwack Library on Oct. 1, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Events return, in virtual form, at Fraser Valley Regional Library

People can take part in ukulele jam, bullet journaling, reading groups and more

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

People wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 walk past a window display at a store in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, December 13, 2020. The association representing businesses across Metro Vancouver says the costs of COVID-19 continue to mount for its members.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Greater Vancouver business organization says members face uncertain outlook in 2021

Many Greater Vancouver businesses are barely treading water as they enter 2021

Most Read