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Surrey teachers express COVID grievances, call for policy changes in classrooms

Last Updated Dec 15, 2020 at 6:57 pm PST

(iStock Photo)

Saying they are "not safe," teachers in Surrey demanding changes in the classroom

In an open letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Surrey Teachers Association is demanding a mask mandate smaller class sizes

Meanwhile, the BCTF is calling for a 'priority order' for COVID-19 vaccine for B.C. teachers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Teachers in Surrey are throwing down the gauntlet, demanding B.C.’s top doctor bring in policy changes in the classrooms.

The highly-charged letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry says the Ministry of Health needs to listen to teachers in Surrey about the “reality of our experiences.”

In the letter, the teachers union is demanding the number of students on campus at any one time be cut in half, noting that Surrey teachers are currently attempting to educate around 75,000 kindergarten to grade 12 students in 130 schools.

“Every small prep room, cupboard, and alcove is being used as a teaching space or workspace. In normal times, overcrowding is the source of almost every problem and tension in our school district, and in the pandemic, the overcrowding is hazardous,” the release reads.

The Surrey Teachers Association also notes that several teachers have contracted COVID, with at least one ending up in the ICU, while Fraser Health has been forced to close two schools in the district.

Beyond reducing the number of students, the Association is also renewing a call for a mask mandate in schools in Surrey, which continues to record the highest daily COVID counts in the province.

“Cohorts have been established but there is intermixing that can’t be controlled in hallways, playgrounds, and at lunch hour. We simply don’t have the space to ensure physical distancing in our schools, and we require a reduction in density to make that possible.”

“We are not safe”

Teachers add, the layers of protection the province has ensured to keep teachers safe “have holes in them.”

“In the environmental measures layer, plexiglass has been installed in offices but there are no barriers in classrooms,” the release reads.

“Administrative measures can only do so much if we are still teaching 100% of the kids face to face. In elementary classrooms teaching involves a lot of close personal contact with students who need their noses wiped or help putting on shoes or may need to be comforted. In intermediate and secondary classrooms, it’s impossible to support a student who is struggling to learn a concept or skill without being close to them.

“Personal measures such as hand washing, using sanitizer, and physical distancing are limited in effectiveness, mostly because we have many people in our classrooms for long periods of time. We also can’t control whether kids are sent to school sick, especially if COVID-19 victims are infectious before they are symptomatic. Finally, although PPE is the last and least important measure to control the virus, masks are also visible, symbolic, and enforceable. Teachers know that the vast majority of children and youth can learn to wear masks effectively and consistently.”

B.C. teachers in ‘priority order’ for COVID-19 vaccine: BCTF

Meanwhile, teachers on the frontlines with our children every day, and are being told this should move them up the list for a COVID-19 inoculation.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation President Terri Mooring says they don’t know exactly where teachers will fall on the list, but says they hope the shots will be headed their way soon.

“We have many teachers with underlying conditions that haven’t been able to access leave provisions,” she tells NEWS 1130. “They’re working in schools right now under a lot of pressure and fear, quite honestly.”

RELATED: Metro Vancouver bus drivers to be part of Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Health-care workers were given the province’s first vaccine Tuesday and are among the first group to be immunized as more doses become available.

“We do understand from the provincial health authority that teachers are in a priority order as being frontline workers, as well,” she says. “But obviously, health-care workers need to take precedence.”

“We do see that teachers who don’t we don’t typically think of as frontline workers are indeed frontline workers right now.”

-with files from Mike Lloyd