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

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a single-vehicle rollover Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
Vehicle rollover closes Vernon road

Vehicle flipped onto its side, closing road

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

A petition to spare the Mount Rose Swanson area from logging later this year has eclipsed 21,000 signatures as of Jan. 20, 2021. (Rose Swanson Mountain/Facebook)
Controversial logging will cut 4% of ‘sensitive’ Armstrong forest area: Ministry

A petition to spare the Rose Swanson area from logging has eclipsed 21,000 signatures

Vernon firefighters douse a fire inside a cardboard bin behind the Shops at Polson off Highway 6 Wednesday, Jan. 20. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
PHOTOS: Dumpster fire behind Vernon shopping mall

Vernon Fire Rescue Services respond doused recycling bin fire backing onto Polson Park

The BC SPCA is adapting its fundraising after cancelling events due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
BC SPCA gets creative with fundraising as pandemic continues

The non-profit’s in-person fundraising events all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

Penticton city council heard from Dhorea Ramanula, of Paid Employment for People with Lived Experiences Tuesday, Jan. 19. Ramanula’s organization has operated public washrooms in Kelowna staffed by community support workers since April, she says Penticton could benefit from a similar facility. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Penticton interested in new public washroom concept to combat vandalism

Public washrooms with on-site support staff have been operating in Kelowna since April

Canada Post had remove a lot of letter boxes around Penticton after they were vandalized. This letter box at the United Church on Main St. remains unscathed. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Street mailbox vandals strike Penticton drop boxes

Canada Post had to remove a bunch of the vandalized units

A rendering of UBC’s planned downtown Kelowna campus. (Contributed)
Kelowna’s new downtown campus to help alleviate UBCO’s space crunch

The sizable development is anticipated to be completed by the fall 2024 semester

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
‘You can’t make this stuff up’: Stories from the B.C. CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Most Read