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

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

(THE NEWS – files)
Snowy days ahead for the Okanagan and Shuswap

The region could get up to 5 cm by Thursday

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Heather Barker. (File)
Manslaughter charge laid in Vernon woman’s 2018 death

Shaun Ross Wiebe, 43, faces manslaughter and assault charges related to the death of Heather Barker

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

Kamloops This Week.
48 COVID-19 cases and one death associated with outbreak at Kamloops hospital

One of the 20 patients infected has died, meanwhile 28 staff with COVID-19 are isolating at home

The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon mayor scolded for revealing stance on making church essential

Coun. Scott Anderson calls Cummings’ actions ‘arrogant’

The scene of a serious crash on Highway 33 in Kelowna that killed one and severely injured two others on June 20, 2018. (File)
Driver found guilty of causing death, injury in 2018 Kelowna crash

Travis Ryan Hennessy will face sentencing at a later date

(Michael Rodriguez - Capital News staff)
Downtown stairwell fire suspicious, Kelowna RCMP say

Crews were called to Gotham Nightclub for a report of a stairwell fire

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Head Brewer Kody Rosentreter, owner Wes Greve and taproom manager Lisa Deleo celebrated North Basin Brewing’s grand opening Jan. 22 and 23, 2020. (Contributed)
Osoyoos’ first microbrewery celebrates grand opening

The brewery hopes to show that the Okanagan is more than just wine country

Most Read