In a video published Sunday, Surrey School District superintendent Jordan Tinney said the “unending stream” of COVID-19 exposure and isolation notices issued to parents and staff has been intense and exhausting.
Tinney, who published the 20-minute video on his Twitter account, explained in detail the new “targeted” health measures coming to some schools in the district.
Since a global pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization one year ago, Tinney said the district has issued 2,077 letters to parents related to exposures, outbreaks, or isolation requests.
On March 13 alone, Tinney said, the district issued notices of exposures to 10 schools, issued self-monitoring letters to 17 classes; and sent 40 letters of self-isolation.
“This is a pretty typical day for Surrey, 67 letters, all about COVID-19,” Tinney said.
On March 12, the district announced new targeted COVID-19 health and safety measures as it has “experienced more school-based exposures than any other district in our province.”
The measures are broken down into three parts, including universal, targeted, and intensive.
Universal measures impact all schools, while targeted measures are for select schools based on COVID-19 community prevalence. Intensive measures are for select schools where repeated exposures and multiple isolation notices have been issued.
He said the district is working in collaboration with the medical health officer to identify “intensive schools” based on evidence of community prevalence and ongoing or repeated exposures.
As for the intense measures, Tinney said, some schools will have staff rooms closely monitored to limit informal gatherings and ensure physical distancing, mask wearing and cleaning protocols.
“We’ve had repeated incidences where staff rooms have been a place where more than one person has become infected. It’s just a place where people need a break. If we shut down staff rooms totally, people will go and find other, smaller places to have lunch,” he said.
Tinney said school principals are to engage with staff about the importance of limiting informal gatherings in any setting inside the school.
Another intensive measure is to consider moving all elementary preparation time to a scheduled time 22 minutes before school begins. The change would adjust the start of the identified elementary schools by 22 minutes.
“We know that this will not be easy. There’s a potential of impact, of course, on things like parent schedules, before and after school care, what about any additional costs downloaded onto parents if the child is staying in daycare later in the morning,” Tinney said.
“I just want to say this is not for implementation the day upon return (from spring break). We need to think about this one carefully.”
Targeted measures include not allowing external visitors from the public or district inside the school unless essential; and the district is considering multiple lunch breaks as options to reduce interactions between individual classes.
A summary of the new measures include:
• Having three early dismissals “for the specific purpose of allowing school-based health and safety committees to review and adjust site-specific health and safety plans and protocols as needed, and within provincial guidelines.”
• Exploring options for adjusting elementary start times to allow teachers to have a common preparation time, which would “eliminate the need for cross cohort instruction.”
• Focusing on instruction in their own class, for those who “team-teach as subject specialists” in upper elementary grades, which would eliminate the need to teach more than one class.
• Working with school-based administrators “to increase vigilance during outdoor play time so students do not cross cohorts.”
• Working with school administrators and families “to ensure all students and parents vacate school grounds immediately after school.”
• Considering moving the StrongStart programs to online only. It’s a free program for parents and caregivers and children under the age of five to participate in learning experiences that are designed to support early learning development, such as language, physical, cognitive, social and emotional.
• Continuing to require masks in secondary schools unless staff or students are at their workstation, separated by a barrier or actively eating or drinking.
The district says these steps are “just a summary of a more comprehensive plan” to respond to the increased cases in Surrey and White Rock.
Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021, Surrey has recorded 21,697 COVID-19 cases. With an additional 1,497 cases in South Surrey/White Rock, which is separated from the rest of Surrey, during the same period.
– with files from Lauren Collins