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

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

District of Houston
Council adds flexibility to spending decisions

Singles out road works as potential beneficiary

Filling potholes in Houston
Holes filled on Highway 16

Potholes aren’t restricted to District of Houston streets. Lakes District Maintenance crews… Continue reading

In the past, the pitch-in days saw the community working together to clean-up unlike this year, when they will be encouraged to stay in their own bubbles. (Shiela Pepping photo/Houston Today)
Houston to pitch-in on Apr. 22

The Houston & District Chamber of Commerce’s 60th pitch-in day

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Most Read