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Port Coquitlam teacher says reducing extra-curricular activities key to keeping schools open

Last Updated Nov 13, 2020 at 9:54 am PST

FILE - A young girl sits on a swing. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 photo)

Port Coquitlam teacher, mom says in-class learning the way to go as long as kids not taking part in extra curriculars

PoCo teacher believes risk of spreading COVID-19 higher if kids are enrolled in programs in addition to going to school

Online instruction is especially hard to navigate for students with learning challenges, teacher says

PORT COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) — It’s better for children to have in-class instruction as long as they’re not spending too much time doing other stuff outside of school, according to a Port Coquitlam mother and educator.

The woman, who is a high school teacher, is sharing this suggestion out of concerns surging COVID-19 numbers will force more kids to learn from home.

“This is not meant as criticism, but it is concern,” Emmanuella Triveri, who also runs the choir program at Archbishop Carney Regional Secondary, which has approximately 600 students, says.

“I just would love to see every effort being made to put restrictions in place, so that we can protect things like in-person instruction in schools … I do feel absolutely safe in my school because we are doing everything we can to minimize it. You can not possibly run a school without risk right now.”

She says two of her three children are elementary students and her husband is also a teacher, so their family bubble extends to three schools.

“It’s really challenging to minimize that contact. I would feel better knowing their friends are basically just seeing them and kids within our school community,” she says.

School closures up to public health: minister

Education Minister Rob Fleming is not ruling out more hybrid learning, but he insists any decision to close schools again is up to public health.

“Risk in schools, as we know, is related to risk in our communities, and we’ve seen a number of exposure events where, in almost all of them, we’ve not seen transmission within the school setting,” he explains. “So that tells us the risk in the school setting is still quite low. It is a reflection of what’s happening in our community. We know it is circulating in the community, we know there is going to be, inevitably, people who inadvertently are in the school environment.”

Triveri agrees no school is completely safe, but she believes the risk is higher for children playing club or recreational sports, enrolled in dance or musical theatre programs, and spending time with friends from other schools.

“I would personally feel safer knowing that we are proceeding in our schools with the abundance of caution that has been in place since September. Hybrid learning is really difficult. It’s really difficult, particularly for our students that are most at risk. It seems unnecessary right now,” she says.

She adds online instruction is especially hard to navigate for students with learning challenges.

“When you look at the benefit of having kids in school, it’s there and it’s worth it. I’m just not sure we need the extra-curriculars right now. Really, all our efforts should be to minimize risk where we can.”

Most students getting full-time, in-class learning: Fleming

In a statement emailed to NEWS 1130, Fleming says he trusts existing public health directives.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have taken a science-based approach when it comes to operating K-12 education while following the latest guidance from Public Health, and we will continue to do that…. Schools have strict health and safety measures in place, including students learning in cohorts, to prevent transmission and for efficient contact tracing.

Any change to the current stage would be at the direction of the Provincial Health Officer and local health authorities.”

Fleming explains most students across the province are getting full-time, in-class learning.

“Cases in schools were not unexpected, and it’s important to point out the proportion of cases in school-aged children remains low. And transmission in schools is very rare. That’s why all members of school communities are asked to diligently follow public health advice.”

He also says new public safety orders targeting the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health regions are based on evidence social gatherings in private settings are to blame for surging numbers.

“People who ignore or violate this latest order bring exposure risks into their home – risks they later take with them to their homes, schools and workplaces. We all need to reduce our social interactions, so we can keep our schools and workplaces open.”

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Triveri says she doesn’t understand how any children could still be allowed to play soccer or hockey without getting close to another person.

“Look at the program that I run in a school. I’m a choir teacher and I have to maintain a radius of two metres around each singer, which is a huge space. That means that I can only have half a class at a time, due to the physical restrictions of my room and they must be masked. If that’s the case within one learning group, why is that same sort of protocol not being followed in programs outside of school?”

Earlier this week (Monday), when Provincial Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry clarified new orders introduced on Saturday, she insisted they don’t apply to schools where children are still allowed to play group sports inside gymnasiums.

She also remains reluctant to make masks mandatory everywhere in schools –something Triveri says could easily be possible at the secondary level.

“I teach at a high school and I do think it’s absolutely possible for students there to wear masks at all times and they really have been so good about it. Kids are very resilient and they are doing such a good job of keeping each other safe by wearing masks. At our school, that generally is the norm. I don’t teach at an elementary school. I do have kids at an elementary school. I’ve got a son that is 11. He’s in Grade 6 and he wears his mask most of the time because he’s a very cautious kid and he is comfortable doing that. I have a daughter who’s five, she’s in kindergarten. Is it practical to expect that a teacher can enforce masks at all times in five year olds in a kindergarten class? I’m not sure that’s the case.”

Even so, she says she believes masks should be worn at all times “where it is practical to do so.”