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B.C. set to unveil changes to COVID-19 protocols in schools; BCTF continues push for safer classrooms

Last Updated Feb 4, 2021 at 7:11 am PST

FILE -- A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Summary

The province is expected to announce changes to COVID-19 protocols in schools

Many teachers, parents have repeatedly expressed concerns with school protocols around COVID-19

Dr. Henry hinted earlier this week that there may be some adjustments to how the virus is being handled in schools

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The province is expected to announce changes to COVID-19 protocols in schools, this morning, promising more money and support for safer classrooms across B.C.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is scheduled to address the public alongside B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside at 10 a.m. and could calm some fears and widespread frustrations voiced by many parents and educators.

Teachers and their union have repeatedly expressed concerns with the way COVID-19 has been handled in schools so far. That’s also the indication from two surveys done by the BC Teachers’ Federation, recently.

As the province promises more funding, teachers wonder if it might mean more plexiglass barriers, improved and upgraded ventilation systems, or even fewer kids in classrooms.

Only 18.5 per cent of teachers told the BCTF that class sizes are adequate for effective social distancing.

“This risk may be compounded in some schools by additional overcrowding, most severely in areas with growing populations such as Surrey School District,” says the BCTF report.

However, by far, the largest demand is for a mask mandate. Most educators — 86.9 per cent — say all teachers and adults should be required to wear a mask most, if not all, of the time, while 79.9 per cent agree the same should apply to students.

Most of the support for a mask mandate comes from the Fraser Health Region, “with 90.8% of teachers supporting mask wearing for teachers/other adults and 85.3% for students all or most of the time in school.”

A BCTF survey has found large support for a mask mandate in B.C. schools. (Courtesy BCTF)

Henry hinted earlier this week that there may be some adjustments to how the virus is being handled in schools.

While she’s repeatedly resisted calls to make masks mandatory in all school spaces, Henry told reporters Monday that health officials were looking into where improvements could be made to the current plan, not ruling anything out.

“Masks are one part of it that reduce the risk of transmission and reduce the risk of widespread transmission in schools. Dr. Réka Gustafson has been working with the school team to look at where things are working and where things aren’t working, and there’ll be more information on that later this week,” she said.

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Her comments came as the Fraser Health Authority began testing in Maple Ridge after a positive COVID-19 case at Garibaldi Secondary School was in contact with someone with a variant strain of the virus.

Testing has since confirmed that the cohort in question — 81 students and eight teachers — all tested negative for the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K.

The BCTF report also shows a high level of COVID-burnout, impacting female teachers harder than male teachers and that the crisis may worsen the teacher shortage.

More than two-thirds of teachers working in-person report an increased workload as they struggle to balance prep work, marking and enforcing hand washing and cohort rules.

“A third (34.2%) of teachers report that their experience of the pandemic has made it more likely that they will leave teaching in the next two years … Teachers who identify as female (35.0%) were significantly more likely than male-identified teachers (30.7%) to say that their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic made it more likely that they would leave teaching within the next two years.”

Read the BCTF’s full survey:

2021BCTFHealthSafetySurvey_FinalReport

-With files from Kathryn Tindale