One day after the B.C. provincial government unveiled its back-to-school COVID safety plan, B.C. teachers are saying it doesn’t go far enough.
“There were some positive aspects to the announcement, but overall we came away from it feeling like it doesn’t go far enough in terms of information provided about testings, clinics and strategies to ensure that the 12 to 17-year-old students are fully vaccinated, or information about ventilation systems,” said Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.
Mooring wants to see a testing strategy put in place that includes asymptomatic testing and the use of rapid antigen tests so schools can get a better picture of the presence of COVID-19 in school communities.
“Last year we had situations in schools where there were a lot of exposure notifications and the reality is that we know some people are asymptomatic and continue to transmit the virus. The likelihood of it being children is high, so we’d like to see that strategy in place,” Mooring said.
The BCTF was hoping for a K-to-12 mask mandate, however, the province has only mandated masks for grades 4 and up. Mooring expressed concern that students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 won’t be required to wear masks, as they are ineligible for vaccination. Mooring is hoping parents will still pack masks in their children’s backpacks.
Mooring said that while teachers have high rates of vaccination, the union would not oppose mandatory vaccines, but she would rather see strategies like improving ventilation in schools, a testing strategy and a K–12 mask mandate.
With schools set to return on Sept. 7, Mooring said her biggest concern is the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. schools that may cause students and teachers to miss weeks of class time. Local health authorities will have the ability to enact regional measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, something Mooring said should help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the impact of tightened restrictions in areas where they’re not needed.
“The last thing anyone wants is to see the delta variant spreading in schools,” Mooring said.
“Having said that, teachers are looking forward to starting the school year. Teachers are excited to see students and students are excited to return to school for the most part as well. It really does normalize our lives when kids are back to school… We just think there could be a lot more peace of mind for families and teachers if some additional safety measures were put in place.”
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