Students at one of the four district sites being used for childcare for essential service workers, during the suspension of in-class learning, had special protocols throughout the day for washing hands and keeping the classrooms clean. (File photo: Lauren Collins)

Surrey teacher hopes Ministry of Education will change return-to-school plan

‘My ideal would be that I go back to a classroom where everybody’s wearing masks,’ says Lizanne Foster

Lizanne Foster says her “most immediate” concern about going back to school on Sept. 8 is the Labour Day long weekend.

Foster, a career life connections teacher at Queen Elizabeth Secondary, has been voicing her concerns on social media about the Ministry of Education and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s plan for a return for the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ ALSO: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan, July 29, 2020

“Everybody’s going to be out. There’s been increased contact all through this pandemic whenever there was a (long weekend) … Then Dr. Henry was out there telling us we need to wait for the two-week incubation period to see how many people got sick, and urging people that if they suspect they’re sick to isolate,” explained Foster.

“But suddenly, there can be this massive mixing of people on Labour Day weekend and then, boom, we’re in school the next day. We are in school during that incubation period … That’s a problem.”

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” made up of a “consistent group of staff and students.” Students will be assigned to groups of up to 60 for elementary school and 120 for high school.

This is 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.

Foster said it’s “terrifying to have to think about choosing your life or your livelihood.”

“That’s why I’m pushing on social media, everywhere, all these questions right now, because I’m hoping in the next five weeks, we can turn something around and get something more palatable that can actually be safe,” she said.

“My ideal (situation) would be that I go back to a classroom where everybody’s wearing masks and the class size is small, like 10 to 12 students. I can spread our 10 to 12 students in my classroom.”

But the bigger problem, she said, is school infrastructure as a whole.

“Every time the provincial health officer talks about schools, I don’t think she knows what actually is in schools… When she says schools can do this and schools can do that, you cannot do it,” said Foster, adding that officials have pointed to essential service workers being able to return to their jobs.

“But essential workers and all those other workers, they do not work in buildings where windows don’t open, where the ventilation system does not work, where taps have to be held down in order to work, they’re not working in portables.”

She said it’s like teachers are in “one reality” and the ministry and health officials are in another.

“They’re telling us the reality we know we live in is not possible.

“Just in the same way restaurants and bars and all these places are getting regular inspections. Hospitals, of course, have to be held to a really high standard, so they get checked all the time,” said Foster.

“Schools need to be checked. They should come in and base the plan for schools on what schools are actually like. This is the most frustrating thing about this plan.”

Foster pointed to the public Facebook group, BC voters supporting BC teachers and public education, which has more than 12,000 members, to get a gauge of what teachers and parents are thinking about the plan.

When schools across the province returned June 1 for a hybrid system of learning, Foster said people were “just losing their minds.”

READ ALSO: Surrey School District forecasts up to 30 per cent of students will return to class this week, June 2, 2020

But she said in Surrey, district Superintendent Jordan Tinney, and his near weekly video messages, “were the most reasonable thing that gives me comfort.”

All throughout the pandemic, Foster said she would wait for his message “because that’s my immediate situation.”

“I think that’s also at the back of my mind is that I’m waiting for what Tinney is going to do, not what Fleming is going to do.”

And when she listened to Tinney’s July 30 message, following the ministry return plan, she found it “really interesting” that he mentioned the district is looking at a hybrid model for secondary schools.

“That’s different to what the [provincial] announcement was.”

READ ALSO: Surrey school district anticipates ‘full return’ for elementary students: superintendent, July 30, 2020

Tinney said some secondary schools are well over 1,000 students, with some as large as 2,000 and “it may not be possible in our very large secondary schools to have all students in attendance full time.”

With that, Tinney said the district is “examining” hybrid models that include both face-to-face and online learning.

However, he added that the district is anticipating “a full return to school for 100 per cent” of elementary students.

Tinney said cohorts will stay together for learning and other activities.

“In this concept, students will still be in classes, but these classes can learn and interact together. It’s very similar to expanding your contacts in the community, but it limits the close contacts to 60 or 120 in our schools,” he said.

Now, Tinney said through the cohorts, the B.C. government “feels that we can provide opportunities for more students while still keeping COVID under control to the greatest extent possible.”

– With files from Ashley Wadhwani



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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