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Thousands sign petition demanding B.C. schools extend winter break

Last Updated Jan 1, 2021 at 2:01 pm PST

A empty classroom is pictured at McGee Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. From school closures to travel restrictions to limits on large gatherings, Canada entered a new stage in combating the spread of COVID-19 this week with measures that various experts say will almost certainly have unintended consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Summary

An online petition has gathered thousands of signatures in support of pushing back the return to school

Health officials have remained steadfast in their commitment to keep schools open, saying transmission is low

The next update on COVID-19 in B.C. is scheduled for Jan. 4 -- the first day back to school for many kids

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An online petition is calling on the province to delay the return to school in B.C due to the number of COVID-19 cases in the province, including the first case of a new and more contagious virus variant.

The call for a two-week extension of the winter break has been signed by thousands.

“Dr. Bonnie Henry has put in new health measures but cases still keep on increasing. Not to mention the new strain of COVID-19, we need to figure out a new plan for our schools. To be sure that it is safe for students to return,” it reads.

Many of the signatories reference the number of exposure notices that have been issued since the fall.

“We care about the health of teachers and children. Many school exposures, including both my kids schools,” one writes.

Data shows when virus safety measures are followed, transmission in schools is low, Henry said on Dec. 23.

“I know there’s a lot of anxiety about transmission in schools, about exposures in schools. The data shows us that we are not seeing schools being a place where transmission spreads widely,” she continued.

She noted there were 526 exposure events — which means someone with the virus was in the environment and not necessarily that transmission happened —  in the nearly 2,000 schools in B.C. from Nov. 1 to Nov. 18, mostly in elementary schools. That means seven in 10 schools didn’t have exposure during that time, and transmission was mainly between staff members. Henry noted transmission is more likely between adults.

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Since September, three schools in Surrey have been forced to close for two weeks because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“School safety plans have been inadequate since September. With a new, more contagious variant making rounds, sending kids and staff back to overcrowded and often unmasked classrooms without making major adjustments to improve ventilation, improve distancing, mask all who can wear them, is unethical and unconscionable,” one parent writes.

Henry has been adamant that keeping schools open is crucial for both the well-being and education of kids in the province. In their last update of 2020, Dix and Henry stressed that B.C. is at a “precarious” point in the pandemic.

The next briefing from her and Health Minister Adrian Dix is scheduled for Jan. 4, which is the day students are due back in school in Vancouver and Surrey.

The timing of that update has one parent saying she doesn’t have the information she needs to decide if it’s safe for her child to return.

“We won’t receive another update until 3 p.m. on Jan 4th … right after the kids will have already spent their first full day in school after the holidays!! Without mandated masks by the way. I can’t even begin to explain how ridiculous this is. Therefore, my child will be home on Jan 4th, until I can at least see what the current case count is from the weekend and can make a further decision about her attendance,” Vicki writes.

In Ontario, classes have been moved online and the return to in-person instruction is not set to resume until Jan. 11. However, in Southern Ontario, high school will not resume until at least Jan. 25.