Teachers at Maple Green Elementary in Surrey stage a walk-in before school on Wednesday (March 3, 2021), as Fraser Health continues to announce variant exposure cases at Surrey schools throughout the district. (Submitted photo: Julia MacRae)

Teachers at Maple Green Elementary in Surrey stage a walk-in before school on Wednesday (March 3, 2021), as Fraser Health continues to announce variant exposure cases at Surrey schools throughout the district. (Submitted photo: Julia MacRae)

Surrey Teachers’ Association calls for district-specific COVID-19 safety measures

STA holds third and fourth walk-ins after multiple COVID-19 variant exposures

Matt Westphal says the Surrey Teachers’ Association would like to see school districts be “formally empowered” by the province to implement further COVID-19 safety measures.

Westphal, the STA president, spoke to the Now-Leader after staff staged the third and fourth walk-ins in the district at A.H.P. Matthew and Maple Green elementary schools following more than a dozen COVID-19 variant exposures at Surrey schools since the end of February.

READ ALSO: ‘Solidarity march’ by teachers, staff at Surrey school hit by COVID-19 variant, Feb. 23, 2021

“Currently, there’s just one common set of rules for the whole province, regardless of the actual conditions in any particular area,” he said. “We just don’t think that makes sense when there’s such a disproportionate number of cases in Fraser Health, and especially in Surrey. The districts need to be given those tools, and right now, their understanding is they are not permitted to exceed the provincial guidelines and that just makes no sense to us.”

He added the STA would like to see the province give districts power to “further safety measures over and above what’s currently done across the province, so that they can deal with hot spots within their district.”

Westphal said that could be looking at firmer restrictions on certain schools or areas in the district.

With the influx of variant cases and exposures, Fraser Health has telling entire classes to self-isolate.

READ ALSO: Six classes at four Surrey schools isolating after COVID-19 variants detected, March 3, 2021

“It does seem as though Fraser Health is acting more aggressively when it comes to self-isolating a whole class, versus in the past they might have just self-isolated one or two people and told everyone else to self-monitor.”

But Westphal said he and the STA feel that could go further.

We think those are important measures to take. We think they could broaden them even more … increase their capacity to do rapid testing,” he noted. “Maybe some schools, if we could, it would be nice to be able to close the schools down and have them go remote for last week before spring break. But that’s currently not possible for the district to do under the provincial rules.”

With spring break less than two weeks away, Westphal said it’s difficult to predict whether or not transmission could worsen.

“If people follow what has been strongly recommended and keep mainly to themselves and don’t gather together, don’t travel, then spring break should actually help,” he explained.

“However, if they don’t (follow the rules), then we might be seeing a definite increase during the break and then beyond. That’s a big question mark for us and a big concern.”

As for the response to the walk-ins, Westphal said it has been positive from parents and staff.

“We all have a common interest in making sure that the schools can keep running and that they can be safe for everyone.”

The STA, he said, isn’t telling teachers to plan the walk-ins, but they’re just happening at the grassroots level.

“I wish people would listen to the voice of the people who are actually on the ground, going into those buildings everyday, trying to keep things safe for everyone as much as they can. I wish that voice would be heeded.”

Westphal added there is a walk-in planned at Harold Bishop Elementary on Thursday morning (March 4).



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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