Teachers in the province are calling on the B.C. government implement further measures to protect staff and students before schools reopen next week.
“It’s very stressful for teachers because we have a very strong desire to keep everyone safe. And we have consistently found that the safety measures in place have not been adequate,” said Teri Mooring, the president of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).
But some students and parents think differently — and many are not at all concerned about the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
“I honestly don’t because with all the masks and stuff, yes it is annoying, but I think all the school’s protocols are pretty safe,” said one student, who did not provide their name.
Studies have shown that school-age children have better educational and social outcomes when they learn in a classroom compared to online. One study that examined 6,578 Canadian students in Grades 4–12 and was published in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment in October, found that elementary school students who learned online felt they mattered less than their peers who attended school in-person.
The B.C. government has also repeatedly claimed that schools continue to be considered low-risk settings for transmission of COVID-19 — especially as more and more people are vaccinated — but it provides no data on infection rates at schools.
Island Health data obtained via a Freedom of Information request and published by CHEK News last month, shows that total of 440 students and 34 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 within the health authority region between Sept. 8 and Oct. 17.
B.C. does, however, post monthly reports on the BCCDC’s website about exposures within the provincial K-12 school system — a practice it began in mid-October — but the data is not broken down by health authority region.
But with schools re-opening in just a little over a week, Mooring said it’s an unpredictable time for education workers because many teachers don’t know whether they’re infected or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive during the winter break.
“We know how much more easily spread this virus is than the original COVID or even the Delta variant. So, in light of that, schools need to look different when we start in January again,” she said.
In a series of tweets, the BCTF posted a list of measures they want the provincial government to implement before schools open their doors again in the New Year, including providing N95 masks, improving ventilation systems in schools and releasing daily COVID-19 cases in schools and districts.
Mooring also said the union wants classes to resume in January online “because we think we’re going to need some time to ascertain how many education workers are going to be available to work. We’re in a critical teacher shortage.”
However, in an email statement, the Ministry of Education told CHEK News that in-person learning will continue.
“We are currently planning for continued in-person learning in the new year, with enhanced safety measures. In-person learning is crucial to the social and emotional well-being of students,” the statement read, adding. “With the arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, public health is monitoring the data extremely carefully. We will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Health Officer to ensure we are following the science and have the right safety measures in place for students and staff.”
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Education, according to the statement, met with the provincial K-12 Steering Committee, which includes the BCTF, and is scheduled to meet again next week with the intention of finalizing “enhanced safety measures for schools.”
Parents, meanwhile, are being urged by the provincial government to get their children vaccinated.
The Omicron variant has changed the pandemic. It’s more transmissible and has a shorter incubation. Safety measures in #bced schools must change too. Thousands of students remain unvaccinated and too many workers are waiting for boosters. The #bcpoli government must act. 1/6
— BCTF (@bctf) December 23, 2021