B.C.’s plan to return students to class in September has a White Rock father and son considering protests and a class-action lawsuit.
Friday (July 31), Bernard and Max Trest launched a Facebook page dedicated to rallying others who share their concerns around the size of cohorts planned, the lack of a mandatory mask requirement and no option for hybrid/virtual learning.
“Help stop the insanity in BC before our kids become infected and possibly die,” an introduction on the page states.
“Our voices here in BC, which are the majority of the voices, need to be heard as the government is not properly protecting our children.”
Ministry of Education officials on July 29 announced B.C.’s plan for a return to school in September, noting much of the plan will be up to individual school districts.
Minister of Education Rob Fleming said the province is moving to Stage 2 of the B.C. Education Restart Plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year on Sept. 8.
Students will be organized into “learning groups” or “cohorts” – up to 60 for elementary school and 120 for high school –to reduce the number of people each student or staff member will come into contact with, reduce the risk of transmission and help with contact tracing for health authorities.
Surrey Schools superintendent Jordan Tinney said in a July 30 message that the cohorts will stay together for learning and other activities. Students will still be in classes, “but these classes can learn and interact together,” he said.
“It’s very similar to expanding your contacts in the community, but it limits the close contacts to 60 or 120 in our schools.”
Bernard Trest said it makes no sense that B.C’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has capped limits for social gatherings at 50, but is allowing student cohorts of 120.
“She’s sending very mixed feelings to the public,” Trest said.
Trest said B.C. should be following Ontario’s lead, citing a plan that includes mandatory masks, smaller cohorts and an option to continue learning at home in a virtual environment.
With all that is still unknown about COVID-19, he added – as well as a “great deal” of data showing it may cause lifelong health complications – the risk to students is too great to proceed as currently planned.
“You’re dealing with possibly killing children,” he said, describing the message that things are OK as a “Chernobyl moment” – a reference to word he said officials gave following the 1986 disaster, that “there’s nothing wrong, everything’s going to be OK.”
“There’s not enough data, there’s not enough science to let us know that,” Trest said.
“Saying it’s OK does not make it OK.”
Max, who is 10 years old, has asthma and “understands the science” – he was described as a “child prodigy” in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics July 2020 newsletter – was blunt when asked to share his opinion of the current plan for school.
“It sounds like something that’s really stupid,” he said. “I feel that the cohorts need to be really limited.”
Surrey teacher Lizanne Foster shared similar concerns this week on social media. She said a return to school immediately after the Labour Day weekend – a time when there is potentially a “massive mixing of people” – is a bad idea. It doesn’t mesh with health officials’ previous pre-long-weekend messages around waiting two weeks to see how many fell ill, she said.
“We are in school during that incubation period… That’s a problem,” she said.
School infrastructure, she added, is a bigger problem.
Trest – noting he’s seen “thousands” of comments online from parents who share similar concerns – said protest ideas he has in mind include a “mass walkout” in which parents who don’t feel it is safe yet for their kids to go back to class would simply not show up in September.
He encouraged anyone interested to visit the Facebook page for more information.
– with files from Lauren Collins & Ashley Wadhwani