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Teachers ‘on edge’ about students returning to classrooms, says DTA

Full classrooms, inconsistent ventilation and filtration, as well as a lack of transparency on school case numbers are among the list of concerns
Students in hall Delta Sec
Students back in the hallways of Delta Secondary School in Ladner this week with plenty of COVID-19 safety rules in place.

Bringing students back from their Christmas holiday break amidst the pandemic’s fifth wave has a lot of teachers worried for their students’ and their own health, says Delta Teachers’ Association’s (DTA) President Susan Yao.

Students across B.C. were called back to school on Monday, following a one-week delay to allow school districts and teachers to prepare “enhanced safety plans” for their return.

But, as Omicron cases continue to surge, some feel that it won’t be enough.

“I would say, judging by the emails and the phone calls that are coming in, that people are on edge. They’re not sure what’s going to happen ... The rapid increase in the [case] numbers means that there’s a potential for outbreaks,” says Yao.

Following Friday’s (Jan. 7) news conference from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and Health Minister Adrian Dix – where they announced that N95 masks won’t be made available to students or staff and that they’re stopping individual-case contact tracing in schools – the DTA would like to see some changes to that current plan.

Among them are having N95s available to teachers who want them, decreasing classroom capacities, creating more opportunities for online teaching and receiving more transparent case data, Yao explains.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s (BCTF) President Teri Mooring, during her own media conference following the provincial announcements, also stressed the importance of providing N95s for classroom-use, prioritizing teachers for booster shots and ensuring that there is proper ventilation in schools and creating plans to get those in place.

On Monday, Delta Superintendent Doug Sheppard sent an emailed letter out to parents detailing potential school closures, the changes to contact tracing and personal prevention measures to help keep school communities safe.

In the letter, he explained that, in place of contact tracing, public health will issue a notification in the event of a declared outbreak, or schools will issue one if there is a significant decrease in attendance from their typical rates for that time of year.

As for functional closures, “if this occurs, we will endeavour to notify you as soon as possible (via email, district and school websites and social media) and hopefully before your child arrives at school for the day,” read the letter.

Yao stressed how important it is to do everything in our power to protect one another, including getting vaccinated and wearing a well-fitting mask.

“Teachers care and they want their students to be safe. They want to be safe. They want to go home and not be fearful that they’re bringing something home to their own kids and family,” says Yao.

-With files from Glacier Media