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

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

First-year Selkirk College student Terra-Mae Box is one of many talented writers who will read their work at the Black Bear Review’s annual (virtual) launch on April 22. Photo: Submitted
Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

School District 20 is advising the public there has been a positive case of COVID-19 at the Trail high school. Photo: Trail Times
District confirms positive COVID case at Trail high school

The person is at home self-isolating, administration advised on Wednesday

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

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

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Since April 4, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Vancouver the largest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases: data

This month alone, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived

Most Read