One of the brightest lights in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 has been the Surrey School District.
Teachers, support staff, administrators and students have all been on the front line since schools partially reopened last June, and fully in September. While there have been many challenges, with exposures, outbreaks and seemingly constant changes in rules and protocols, the school district has succeeded in giving students the education that they deserve. While this may sound commonplace, it is truly extraordinary, given the circumstances.
Surrey has been the epicentre of COVID-19 cases in B.C., and it continues to be. There have been more cases in this city than anywhere else. As of Feb. 1, before the current third wave of cases, Surrey had recorded 21,697 cases, with a further 1,497 in Surrey/White Rock. No other areas of the province, including Vancouver, has seen so many cases.
There almost certainly would have been many more if the school district had not acted so proactively. In a Twitter video released March 14, Supt. Jordan Tinney noted that the school district had released 2,077 letters to parents related to exposures, outbreaks and isolation issues. This is an unprecedented level of communication.
Tinney and senior district staff, along with principals, have been relentlessly communicating. Many of these communications have taken place on weekends. This seven-day-a-week cycle of information is in marked contrast to the approach of the provincial government, which almost never communicates any information on weekends and, in some cases, waits for three days before releasing COVID-19 updates.
Surrey Teachers Association has also been relentless in pushing for safety measures for its members. Under the leadership of president Matt Westphal, it called for a complete mask mandate inside school buildings for months. This was partially granted at long last month, when masks were made mandatory for Grades 4-12 students, but the union would still like to see masks made mandatory for all students.
The school district and the union’s strong advocacy also likely played a role in a plan to vaccinate all school staff in Surrey by April 1. Unfortunately, this was not accomplished by that date due to recently-announced restrictions on the use of the Astra Zeneca vaccine to people over 55.
Many students continue to learn online, but the majority are attending school regularly. While this sounds routine, it really isn’t. In many parts of the U.S., such as California, schools have been closed for a year. This is also the case in some other parts of the world. In Canada, other provinces have closed schools for shorter periods of time.
When the province first announced schools would reopen last spring, the case numbers in B.C. were low. Since that time, they have spiked dramatically in late fall and early winter, and are again spiking now. Keeping schools open remains a priority.
If students miss as much as two years of learning, which may be the case in some parts of the world, they are losing a significant portion of the foundation of their future. It is important that they keep learning.
The province can announce its objectives, but such announcements are meaningless if those who actually provide the education don’t do their part. Surrey educators and their support staff (in both public and private schools) are doing yeoman work. Students, their families and the community at large need to appreciate the importance of what they are doing, and when they get the opportunity, thank them. Our future will be brighter as a result.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca