The head of the B.C. teachers’ union said they were not consulted about the decision to keep students in school until the traditional winter break, instead of extending it like some other provinces.
At a press conference Monday (Dec. 7), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that officials had consulted with stakeholders about the decision, and had come to the conclusion that it was best to keep kids in school. The winter holiday break is scheduled to start on Dec. 21.
“We are not having large numbers of transmission events in schools,” she said. “Schools really are a safe place, and an important place for educators and for our students.”
However, in a tweet later that day, B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said that the union was not on the list of stakeholders.
“It’s unclear to me why this issue didn’t go to the Ministry steering committee where all the stakeholders are represented. Obviously communication continues to be very problematic,” she noted.
Speaking on Wednesday (Dec. 9) afternoon, newly-minted Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said that there was overall agreement over the decision to continue with a standard winter break.
“The public health officer made the determination that no adjustment was necessary to the school break schedule,” Whiteside said. “That is a decision that I understand our education partners largely agreed with.”
Despite Mooring’s Twitter post, Whiteside said it is her “understanding that the BCTF have said don’t really take issue with the [provincial health officer’s] decision about the school break.”
B.C. has had hundreds of exposures in its schools since students returned in September, but only a few outbreaks. The province has not released detailed information about the rate of COVID-19 spread in schools. As of Wednesday, there have been 1,544 children under the age of 10 and 3,403 between the ages of 10 and 19 who have tested positive for the virus.
With low rates of transmission in schools touted by health officials Whiteside said “there is no evidence that it would safer for kids to be out of the structured and safe environment we built for them in schools.”
Other provinces in Canada have gone the route of an extended winter break. In Alberta, students in Grade 7 to 12 were sent home on Nov. 30 and will continue through virtual learning until their semesters end on Dec. 20. Younger students will continue in-class until Dec. 18.
In Quebec, all public schools will close for in-class learning on Dec. 17, with students studying virtually till the end of the semester.
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