As B.C. rides the third wave of COVID-19, many Vancouver Island parents are taking matters into their own hands by pulling their children out of school.
“I didn’t want to have to deal with the fact that he could contract the coronavirus,” said Keisha Korhonen Henry, a parent in the Comox Valley who pulled her son out of school in recent weeks.
Mary Pearson, a parent in Nanaimo pulled her eight and 11-year-olds out of school just before the April holiday.
“I pulled them the week before Easter when the numbers were getting completely out of control,” said Pearson.
In Victoria, Corisande Evans says she also pulled her two kids out of school.
“My husband and I made the decision to pull our 5-year-old and preschooler from school on the first Monday back,” said Evans, who also happens to be a physician.
And these three moms are not alone, it’s a pattern being seen in classrooms across the Vancouver Island.
“After the South Park [Elementary School] exposure, one of the kindergarten classes had four kids one of the days. I hear from teachers when half their class is missing,” said Winona Waldron, the president of the Greater Victoria Teacher’s Association (GVTA).
And while kids are missing from classrooms, so are the teachers.
“Anxiety level is so high that they’re going on medical leaves,” said Waldron. “Teachers that work on-call, I’ve been hearing that they’re not going to take calls, worried about going to so many different areas. “We’re getting into a situation where we’re going to have a teacher shortage.”
Island Health posts school exposures online but it doesn’t release more information, like if it was a staff member or a student, or what grade levels are affected.
“It was a little bit scary because they said you’ll be contacted by Island Health if you’re affected, but you don’t know how long it’s going to be before you’re contacted,” said Korhonen Henry, who received a letter letting her know that there was an exposure at her son’s school.
The GVTA says if more information was given, perhaps more parents might feel comfortable bringing their kids to school that has an exposure.
“You might make a different decision,” said the president of the organization.
But for parents who do choose to keep their kids at home, there isn’t a universal online learning program, leaving teachers to create at-home packages themselves.
“They said, ‘We’ll leave a package of their school work that they give out at the beginning of the week,'” said Pearson. “The office organizes that for us so we can learn at home. I know that they probably can’t do that for everyone but they do it for us.”
The GVTA says a provincial hybrid online learning program would take the pressure off teachers, who are seeing their workload doubled as a result.
“Having a hybrid model means that you’d have a teacher dedicated to those students who want to be at home, and other teachers dedicated to in-person classroom learning. It would lower the density in the schools,” said Waldron.
On Saturday, B.C.’s health minister touched on the importance of keeping kids in the classroom.
“They are safer for all kinds of educational reasons and mental health reasons and covid reasons they are safer in the structure of a school,” Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister, said in a rare Saturday press conference.
For now, with safety protocols and new mask mandates, the message from health officials continues, schools are safe in B.C.