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 volume of visitors to White Rock’s Marine Drive over the weekend has led council to consider special measures this week. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock council rejects resident-only parking for waterfront

Other health and safety measures to be considered in a special meeting Wednesday

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Cloverdale this weekend, April 24-25 (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Here are the food trucks coming to Cloverdale for a drive-thru festival this weekend

Nine trucks will be parked Saturday, nine Sunday during event at fairgrounds

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Parts of Surrey, North Delta to get AstraZeneca vaccines for people ages 40+

A total of seven communities in Surrey and Delta will be targeted

The Braidwood Band performs for the seniors at Zion Park Manor in Surrey, as part of a music program planned by Rick’s Heart Foundation. (submitted photo)
VIDEO: Surrey charity brings distanced concerts to care homes, with prop pink firetruck

Familiar tunes performed for seniors during pandemic-era ‘Heart for Music’ program

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

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

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

Most Read