FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. teachers’ union asks officials for COVID data to prove schools are still safe

BCTF president wants province to share criteria for when schools switch between in-person and remote learning

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is repeating its call for clarity as the third wave of the COVID pandemic surges to record highs.

President Teri Mooring told Black Press Media Tuesday (April 6) that K-12 schools are currently in stage 2 of the pandemic framework and have been there since September. Stage 1 would be a full return to normal while stage 5 is full scale remote learning. Stage 2 is learning groups and full-time in-class instruction.

“There needs to be clarity on what the criteria is to move from stage to stage,” Mooring said. “And that needs to be made clear to not only educators but also families.”

Mooring would also like to see a regional, municipal or even school level response where differently affected areas can make individual decisions about schools in their communities. In Ontario, medical health officers in Toronto and Peel used their authority to shut down schools for a two-week period, citing extremely high COVID risk.

Toronto’s positivity rate is at 8.4 per cent and Peel’s is at 9.6 per cent. B.C.’s 7-day positivity rate is now at 10.2 per cent, and worse in some regions; Northern Health is at 14.3 per cent while Fraser Health is at 12 per cent.

A more targeted approach, Mooring said would allow schools to shut down “when we’re seeing high levels of community transmission and we’re seeing a high number of school exposure notifications to be able to go to a hybrid model… or online.”

Mooring said that while the BCTF is not alerted directly every time students are told to self-isolated, the union remains “very concerned” due to not only the high case counts but the increasing number of variants. B.C. has seen several days of more than 1,000 cases in the past week and the total number of variants of concern has risen to 3,766, with 207 new ones confirmed on Tuesday.

“We think the system ought to be responsive and there ought to be more transparency in how decisions are made,” she said. “That’s what we’ve been lacking for a while now and we’re still lacking it.”

B.C. does not publicly share the number of schoolchildren infected with COVID-19. However, by age, there have been 5,078 children under the age of 10 infected so far during the pandemic, and 10,518 youths aged 10 to 19 infected. As of late March, kids under 10 and youths ages 10 to 19 make up five and 10 per cent of total cases, respectively. Each age group makes up one per cent of hospitalizations and less than one per cent of ICU admissions, along with zero per cent of deaths.

Mooring said that teachers want the full scope of school infections to be made public. Otherwise, Mooring said that the union is stuck finding out about situations like Surrey’s Frank Hurt Secondary, where six classes are isolating, from the teachers or in the media. While Fraser Health does publicize school exposures, the entry for Frank Hurt only lists the exposure dates, not the scale of the issue.

“We’re starting to hear increasingly from families that they don’t have enough information to decide whether they want to keep their kids in school,” Mooring said.

READ MORE: Parents struggle to navigate in-person school, child care amid B.C.’s surging 3rd wave

However, at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry pushed back at the idea that schools are not safe places for kids.

“We know that cases go up when children are not in school and the downside impact on families is immense,” Henry said.

“So we need to find that way of keeping children in schools so we can protect our communities and that is something we take very seriously.”

Henry said that Surrey, where the risk is highest, has adapted, citing that teachers there have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

But Mooring said that the province needs to get proactive, rather than remaining reactive.

“In a situation like Frank Hurt, maybe there does need to be other measures taken – especially when it’s a school where there have been continuous exposure notifications,” she said.

“There seems to be a reluctance to do that and it’s unfortunate.”

Mooring said that while she appreciates the new mask policy, the union would like to see rapid testing and an increase in ventilation as well, while teachers and students remain in school.


@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

The Creston Valley Farmers’ Market will be opening for the outdoor season this weekend. (File Photo)
A new season at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market begins

Opening day will be on Saturday, April 24

Dresses hang outside Nelson city hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson’s REDress Project exhibit vandalized

The REDress Project brings attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women

Frisky Whisky has closed its doors to the public under public health orders. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Cocktail lounge in Creston gets creative to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Frisky Whisky is now offering a lunch takeout menu and take-home cocktail kits

(Pixabay)
Earth Day: Creston Climate Action asks residents to join the conversation on climate change

In celebration of Earth Day, local Creston Climate Action group is inviting… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Ambulance crews have been busy with a record number of emergency overdose calls this Wednesday, April 21. (BC Emergency Health Services)
B.C. paramedics responded to a record 138 overdose calls in a single day

Wednesday’s calls included 48 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region and 51 in Fraser Health

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. COVID-19 hotspots targeted as AstraZeneca vaccine runs low

17,000 appointments booked the first day for people aged 40 and up

A nurse loads a syringe with a vaccine for injection at the Victoria Clipper Terminal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout not enough to bring back normal life by fall: report

Only 51% of the population will be protected under B.C.’s current rollout, SFU professors say more vaccinations are needed to achieve herd immunity

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
UPDATED: Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)
Spring’s yearly spectacle of balsamroot

Ever year in May, balsamroot emerges for a brief showy period

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

Most Read