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Surrey elementary school staff push for stronger COVID protocols, stage another 'walk-in'

Last Updated Mar 2, 2021 at 10:58 pm PDT

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Summary

A 'walk-in' is happening at two local elementary schools Wednesday

President of Surrey Teacher's Association says staff are calling for a mandatory mask policy, reduce classroom density

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Another school “walk-in” is happening in Surrey because of the province’s refusal to bring stronger health protocols into the classroom.

Surrey Teachers Association President Matt Westphal tells NEWS 1130 the walk-ins are happening at A.H.P Matthew Elementary and Maple Green Elementary schools Wednesday, where recent COVID-exposures have been recorded, including a variant of concern at A.H.P Matthew Elementary.

“Right now, we have a single set of COVID health protocols for the whole province, regardless of whether there’s anything in the community or whether it’s getting overwhelmed. So, we think there needs to be different rules, depending on how severe the cases are in the community, and we think school districts need to have the power to adopt stricter rules than the general provincial guidelines,” explains Westphal.

Westphal says staff are on high alert, especially with the emergence of COVID-variants.

“People are deeply concerned that even if the measures were working reasonably well before, are they really going to be adequate now, when we have variants that are far more contagious.”

He says, the province could help ease some of those concerns by doing things like, bringing in a mandatory mask mandate for all students.

“Currently, no Elementary student is required to wear a mask in the classroom at all, and in secondary schools, they’re not required to wear them while they are sitting at their desk, only while moving around,” says Westphal. “We think that’s good enough, because we know that this is an airborne virus, and students are in rooms together breathing the same air, so it’s important to have masks.”

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He says not having a mandate creates real challenges for teachers.

“Some places the students have a lot of buy-in, and they want to wear them, and in others they really don’t”, says Westphal. “If they don’t and you’re an elementary teacher, that’s really the end of the story, the student is free to say no.”

Westphal adds, reducing classroom density can also help.

“That means not having all of the students there at one time,” says Westphal. “What we have in mind here, is that schools that have been harder hit, maybe they should be either going full-remote from now until spring break, or only 50-percent of students attending. But right now, the district doesn’t have the flexibility to do that.”

“Walk-in’s” typically see people gathering before school, wearing red and holding signs before heading off to class once the bell rings.

“It’s a way to send a visual signal that we are together in this, but also that we need change,” says Westphal.

“Walk-in’s” were held at James Ardiel Elementary and Woodward Hill Elementary last week.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced it was funding six rapid response teams around BC, but some advocates think that money would be better spent on adding more safety measures in schools.