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Education minister deflects calls for autonomy over B.C. school COVID-19 plans

Last Updated Feb 23, 2021 at 6:42 am PDT

FILE -- Personal protection equipment is seen on the teacher's desk in classroom in preparation for the new school year at the Willingdon Elementary School in Montreal, on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

B.C.'s education minister says school protocols are working despite multiple exposures to variants

Jennifer Whiteside points out there have been no known transmissions of the variants in schools

Whiteside didn't give the green light for districts to change measures on a school-by-school basis

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With COVID-19 variants connected to seven B.C. schools, many are wondering if the province will allow school districts to go above and beyond provincial guidelines for physical distancing and safety.

There are calls for more rapid testing once a variant is detected at a school, as well as improved ventilation, and a mask mandate for young kids. But the suggestion of a school district wanting to go beyond what the province is recommending didn’t get support from the education minister.

RELATED: B.C. officials say COVID-19 safety plans in schools working, no changes imminent

Jennifer Whiteside points out there have been no known transmissions of the variants in schools, which means the safety plans in place are working.

“I can appreciate the anxiety that everybody doing such an incredible job in our schools right, keeping them open and keeping kids in schools, is experiencing as we see the pandemic develop,” she said Monday.

“What I would say about this situation is, we need to understand what happened,” she said of the variant-related exposure notices sent home in Surrey and Delta.

While she didn’t say districts will never get the autonomy to ramp up health measures, Whiteside said plans and decisions need to be based on evidence and she did not give districts the green light to make their own rules.

“I think that it’s very good news that the testing that has been done so far has indicated no transmission and really what that tells us is that our safety plans are working and I think we need to make changes, if we need to make changes, based on evidence.”

Meanwhile, teachers at Woodward Hill Elementary in Surrey are apparently planning a protest Tuesday. They are expected to wear red during a “walk-in” meant to highlight what’s happening at the school.

Testing is underway after the recent school exposures to the variant in the Fraser Health region.

Rapid testing is being used to trace variant cases at one Surrey school. But with those more transmissible versions of the virus now present, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and Surrey Teachers’ Association pushed for school districts to be given more power to deal with cases on a school-by-school basis.

The only school where rapid testing has been utilized is Surrey’s Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary, where 35 staff were rapid tested on Sunday. All other schools are using the standard PCR test.

Stronger measures now in effect in the Fraser Health region include faster screening for variants and asking more people to isolate.

-with files from Denise Wong and Marcella Bernardo