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Surrey Teachers' Association suggests new COVID measures from district not enough

Last Updated Mar 13, 2021 at 8:14 pm PDT

(Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 photo)
Summary

Surrey has announced Friday that they're tightening up their health and safety measures in schools

Additional measures come after a handful of Surrey schools had a string of recent COVID-19 outbreaks

But Surrey Teacher's Association says they're missing one crucial element, mandatory masks in elementary schools

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Surrey has announced Friday that they’re tightening up their health and safety measures in schools, yet the Teacher’s Association says it’s not enough.

The Surrey School District has released safety plans and protocols in response to recent COVID exposures where the district has seen more cases than any other community in the province.

In a statement, Laurie Larsen, Chair of the Surrey Board of Education, says the Board recognizes the community is dealing with a high burden of COVID-19 cases, “and so we feel it’s prudent to introduce new targeted health and safety measures to further protect our staff and students.”

New measures effective March 29 include:

  • An increase in vigilance of crossing cohorts during outdoor recess.
  • Early class dismissals for safety plans and protocols.
  • Ensuring all students and parents vacate school grounds immediately after school.

Matt Westphal, the Surrey Teacher’s Association president, says the measures are are “good first step, but it’s not going as far as we would like it to go,” adding they’re missing one crucial element, mandatory masks in elementary schools.

“The biggest challenge and disappointment in this is that there’s still no change whatsoever in the rules on masks, and we think that’s a real missed opportunity,” he says.

“Currently elementary students don’t have to wear masks. Surrey schools or classrooms are very crowded because their schools are overcrowded.

“Students are breathing the same air, all day long. Masks are a simple measure that can easily be taken that would help reduce the risk of transmission in the school.”

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Physical distancing continues to be encouraged by the province and the school board, but Westphal says it’s just not possible in Surrey classrooms, given the number of students.

“It’s simply not possible to have anything close to two meters between people.”

Westphal adds a vaccination plan was also missing from the new measures.

“When we are hearing that they’re private businesses that are getting prioritized. We really think schools need to be looked at because teachers and other education workers are the second-highest categories of workers who have had WorkSafe claims accepted for COVID, second only to health care workers,” he says.

“So we think the evidence is there that people working in schools, teachers and support staff and principals are at a higher risk of getting COVID, and they really need the greater protection now that our vaccine supplies seem to be improving.”