LANGLEY (NEWS 1130) – Worried parents in B.C. have organized a “Sick Out” and say they plan to keep their kids home on Tuesday to make a statement about COVID-19 safety in schools.
If all goes according to their plan, there could be hundreds, or even thousands, of empty desks across the province.
Unionized teachers and support staff can’t stay home because the walk out is not sanctioned by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, however, some of them will be wearing red in support of the “Sick-Out.”
They agree with organizers that COVID-19 cleaning protocols, distancing measures, and the safety of classrooms is not equal across the system. Teachers say they want to be notified of exposures faster than current contact tracing supports allow.
Much of the protest is in support of those who work in schools, as parents say they are speaking out on behalf of them, feeling a lack of mandated masks is inconsistent with the safety measures enforced in most B.C. workplaces.
Miranda Tracy, one of the Langley moms who organized Sick-Out BC, says she hopes improvements will be made in schools or another protest could happen.
“We definitely hope we don’t have to go any further. This is our teachers we’re talking about. They educate our children six hours a day, five days a week. They should be listened to. If we need to, we will absolutely keep going. I don’t know whether we will do it before Christmas or in January. The next one will be even bigger –if we have to go that route,” she says.
“Today in our planners we circled dec 1. I asked the stu why. I have talked to them about it. My stu said that tomorrow parents in our province are organizing a sickout day in protest of what is happening at schools.
— tamalama (@tamalama67) December 1, 2020
Despite concern among school communities, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has maintained schools are a low-risk environment.
“We’ve had many exposure events, but they have very rarely resulted in transmission. This is an important time for all of us to reset, learn from what we have been through in the last few months,” she said.
“There is a social media network where people exchange information that we may not be aware of. It can be out there before notifications are put out there. And also there are exposure events that may happen that may not be related to school.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry says she wasn’t aware of a protest planned for today that will see students kept home from classrooms across the province. Parents are orchestrating a “Sick Out” to send a message about what they see as double standards in COVID safety regulations. On @NEWS1130 https://t.co/ANof7vgQwS
— Ash 'I work from home now' Kelly (@AshDKelly) December 1, 2020
Tracy says she hopes the provincial health officer will agree to at least make masks mandatory.
“I hope that she sees this is what the teachers want. This is obviously what a lot of parents and students want and then, reducing class sizes and having online learning options, I personally feel like they go hand and hand. If the online learning options are extended, a lot of people would which would free up class space, as well,” she says.
It took two weeks to organize Tuesday’s protest with people as far away as Prince George promising to take part, Tracy says.
Meanwhile, two public schools in B.C. have closed due to outbreaks. Cambridge Elementary in Surrey has reopened as of Monday, while Newton Elementary remains closed for a two-week shutdown.
The Fraser Health Authority continues to see the highest number of new COVID-19 cases and many of the schools in that region are seeing the number of exposure notices rise.
In addition to keeping students home and teachers wearing red in solidarity, an province-wide email campaign will target schools, districts, MLAs, and the provincial government.
“Because of anti-mask parents (maybe even some staff too) we are hearing it from all over that parents are yelling and screaming to teachers and staff that nobody better tell their kid to wear a mask. Time to get it mandated!” Miranda Tracy, a Langley mom and one of the event organizers, said late last month.
She and others have said they understand how important it is to keep schools open but have concerns about the safety of the work environment for educators as well as the safety of the learning environment for children.
“If the government won’t listen to those actually working in the schools, it’s now up to us as parents, guardians, and families to show our support. Teachers, SEAs, Counselors, Librarians, Admin workers and all school staff, we see you. We stand with you,” Tracy said.
-With files from Marcella Bernardo