They came back from the holiday break exhausted with worry, carrying the fatigue of knowing that it could hit at any time.
That’s how Delta Teachers’ Association president Susan Yao is describing the angst among local teachers as they face COVID-19 exposures in the school district.
“For instance, one counsellor I was talking to today, they don’t know when it’s going to hit them. Of course, counsellors work with kids in multiple cohorts and most of our elementary school counsellors work in more than one school as well," said Yao. "They’re exhausted, they’re scared, and we have teachers who work in Delta but live in other school districts, so their kids go to school in other school districts like Surrey. They’re feeling like they don’t know where they’re safe."
Twelve B.C. Teachers’ Federation local presidents, that represent teachers who work within the Fraser Health region, including Yao, released a statement late last week calling on the health authority to improve health and safety standards in schools.
The locals are calling on the health authority to work with the provincial government, the office of the provincial health officer and school districts to make a series of changes, including reducing density in classrooms and introducing a mandatory mask policy.
Noting just one recent example is an entire North Delta elementary having to self-isolate after an exposure, Yao told the Optimist there’s also much concern about the new coronavirus variant, which is reportedly more contagious and has a lot of unknowns.
“Understandably, teachers are concerned about that and wanting the kids to wear masks, but that’s not in the provincial mandate,” she said.
Here’s the full statement from the teachers’ locals south of the Fraser:
The 12 BCTF Local Presidents that represent teachers who work within the Fraser Health region have released the following statement calling on the Fraser Health Authority to improve health and safety standards in schools.
This week, tens of thousands of public school employees and hundreds of thousands of public school students returned to school after a two-week winter break. Over the break, families were able to limit their exposure to COVID-19, but upon the re-opening of schools on January 4, they once again face the daily risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
As the local BCTF presidents who represent teachers within the Fraser Health Authority, we are calling on Fraser Health to intensify their efforts to help make schools safer for staff, students, and the loved ones we all go home to. Combined, we represent thousands of teachers who work at hundreds of worksites. We’re speaking out together in solidarity for those members who are working in the schools where health and safety standards are inadequate, inconsistent, or unsafe.
Specifically, the Fraser Health Authority needs to work with the government, the office of the Provincial Health Officer, and school districts to make the following changes:
* Continue making improvements to ensure there is timely contact tracing by the Fraser Health Authority. Some exposure notices arrive near the end of the two-week monitoring period, too late to help anyone.
* Reduce density in schools and classrooms to enable physical distancing. Desks are often less than a metre apart and many facilities have poor ventilation.
* Make masks mandatory use in all indoor spaces because physical distancing is not possible in most schools.
* Ensure educators and school staff are appropriately prioritized to receive vaccinations as soon as possible.
* Provide a clear definition and rationale for the threshold to declare an outbreak in a school.
Too many people in our schools feel unsafe. In addition, parents are worried about the health of their children and COVID-19 entering their homes because of transmission at school. More needs to be done to improve preventative measures. Many schools in the Fraser Health region are not safe enough and the status quo is unacceptable.
All along, health officials have assured British Columbians that they will adapt as they learn more about the pandemic and identify problem areas.
Across the Fraser Health region, mask use is inconsistent, cohorts easily break down, and there is little room for physical distancing, especially in schools that are full or over capacity.
As a result, the layers of protection do not exist in many of our schools like they do in most other indoor public spaces.
Here are some examples of the impact of COVID-19 in our schools:
* Exposure notifications are happening daily in schools throughout the Fraser Health Authority— these continued well into the first week, and even second week, of winter break.
* Close to 50 cases of COVID-19 can be linked to Earl Marriott Secondary, a large over capacity school in Surrey. If the superintendent didn’t go public, it is unclear if any exposure letters or other notifications would have been sent out to staff and families.
* Two Grade 9 classes at New Westminster Secondary School were ordered to self-isolate just before the winter break.
* The entire 90-student cohort at A.D Rundle Middle School—Integrated Arts and Technology Secondary in Chilliwack was ordered to self-isolate before winter break, effectively shutting down the program.
* In Delta, 24 out of 31 school sites have had exposures, one school has had a full closure as well as several classes in other schools have had to self-isolate.
* Some schools in the region have received more than 20 exposure notices, but there is no clarity around when an actual outbreak or in-school transmission has occurred. This forces community members and workers to search for information on social media channels.
* In Burnaby, there was a likely outbreak at an elementary school where a number of staff and students in the same week contracted COVID-19, but no outbreak was declared and no classes received isolation letters issued.
It’s time to make changes, improve transparency, and take decisive action to improve the safety of our schools.
As Local Presidents we are committed to working with school districts and health authority officials to get this important work done.