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Vancouver parents push for changes to protect kids from COVID-19 at schools

Last Updated Sep 25, 2020 at 5:51 am PDT

FILE - (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 photo)
Summary

Vancouver parents want more to be done to address safety from COVID-19 in the city's schools

Vancouver DPAC chair says concerns range from lack of physical distancing, overcrowding, lack of masks

Parents have provided suggestions like outdoor classes, improvements to ventilations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Some parents are pushing for more to be done to protect their kids’ health and safety, as students wrap up two full weeks of classes.

With kids across B.C. still getting used to new COVID-19 protocols at schools, and with the list of exposure alerts continuing to grow, there are concerns around things like class sizes, physical distancing, and the lack of mask policies.

“With reports of exposures in schools, those concerns that they’re expressing have been heightened, right? It’s like, well, this is really happening, and why aren’t we doing these things? We talked about them a month ago, why aren’t we doing these things?” Gord Lau, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, says.

He and others wonder why concerns weren’t addressed sooner — after all, they were around before students returned to class.

Lau says he’s hearing plenty of suggestions from people in the school community to ease minds and take steps to make classrooms safer amid the pandemic.

“I’m not necessarily saying that these are realistic options. What I’m saying is there are options that have been put forward by families. Ideas like outdoor classrooms, temporary classroom facilities that are larger, work to improve ventilation, addition of air filters in classrooms, a mandate to wear masks in classrooms right down to lower grades,” Lau tells NEWS 1130.

“And providing more flexible options. Those flexible options could be half days, more remote learning, those sorts of things.”

The lack of remote learning options across various districts in the Lower Mainland has been a point of contention since the province announced in the summer its plan to get kids back to school.

The Ministry of Education has left much of the decision making to school districts and has only provided guidelines for them to follow.

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Lau says parents want more confidence that the health and safety of their kids are a priority. He understands school districts are doing what they can but believes the parameters provided by the Ministry of Education restrict what they can provide.

“The responsibility is ultimately fairly complicated. But, in general, I believe that the districts have done what they can within the mandates provided by the ministry,” Lau explains. “That is both the mandate for, largely, full-time, in-class instruction — especially at the elementary level. The other directive from the ministry is, ‘Here is the amount of money that we’re giving you to deal with COVID.'”

In addition to parent concerns about COVID-19 protocols at schools, there have also been some questions raised about the reporting of COVID-19 cases at schools, particularly in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

The BC Teachers’ Federation has said it’s concerned about what it calls inconsistent reporting of exposures, adding it’s frustrating and that there seems to be different criteria for schools issuing notifications.

“There’s a real time-lag, it seems to me, especially in terms of the contact tracing,” BCTF President Teri Mooring previously said. “And that’s causing a lot of alarm because we know the learning groups and the cohort model is to enable quick and efficient contact tracing.”

This is in stark contrast to the Surrey school district, where its superintendent has been applauded for his transparency and speed to report cases from the beginning of the school year.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she’s confident in VCH’s reporting.

For more back-to-school news amid the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

-With files from Lasia Kretzel, Liza Yuzda, and Kathryn Tindale