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Surrey Teachers' Association calling for mandatory masks, more plexiglass to limit COVID cases in schools

Last Updated Oct 15, 2020 at 2:17 am PDT

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Surrey Teacher’s Association says more needs to be done to keep kids safe

The association is calling for a mandatory mask mandate and more plexiglass

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — As more COVID-19 cases pop up in schools around Surrey, the Surrey Teachers Association says more needs to be done to keep kids safe.

Matt Westphal is the president of the Surrey Teachers Association and says since the return to school, dozens of cases of the virus have popped up and countless kids, as well as teachers, have been exposed.

RELATED: MAP: Lower Mainland schools with COVID-19 exposures

He says while it doesn’t come as a complete surprise, he wants more to be done to ensure everything is being done to keep safety the priority in Surrey.

“I think that at a lot of schools people are either wondering, ‘is our school going to be next?’ Or, if they’ve already had [a COVID exposure] they’re wondering ‘when will the next one come?'”

Westphal says the exposures are causing stress on staff who are worried about getting the virus as well as an additional strain on the job.

He adds, what could help limit the spread of COVID is if the district did more to implement stricter protocols.

“One thing we would like to see is for the masking protocols to be stricter,” he says.

At the moment, masks are mandatory for students in B.C. middle and secondary schools where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Under the province’s back to school plan, students from K-12 are grouped into learning groups so they do not have to stay two metres apart. Instead, they need to limit their physical contact to “keep a healthy distance.”

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While the BCCDC recommends keeping at least two metres between each other, groups of students and staff who remain together throughout the semester or school year will be primarily interacting with each other.

Westphal is also calling for additional plexiglass barriers for “non-classroom settings” for staff that work with students in a closer setting like councillor’s offices.

“We think that would be a very good protective measure, perhaps, in addition to masking but right now it’s just simply not there.”

Lastly, Westphal says the association would like to know how $26.4 million the district received earlier this year — through a federal fund — will be distributed.

“We’re not seeing it used for more teachers as far as we can see. We think it’s going to custodial staffing, but we think there could be other measures and other ways that money could be used, that would help the schools be safer.”

Meanwhile, an application by two parents who wanted tougher COVID-19 safety measures before schools reopened has been dismissed by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.

The application filed in late August on behalf of Bernard Trest of White Rock and Gary Shuster of Vancouver, both fathers of school-age kids, named the ministers of health and education as respondents.

In an oral decision posted online Justice Jasvinder Basran said he is satisfied that public health officials’ advice in B.C. is based on the best available scientific knowledge.

Basran ruled the public interest is best served by relying on COVID-19 guidance issued by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the health minister.

But Westphal says the Ministry of Education is free to implement a higher standard than what the provinces top doctor recommends.