From safety to functional closures: Tensions grow over return to class
At Tuesday afternoon’s COVID-19 briefing, the first one of 2022, BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry seemed to make it clear that more restrictions were unlikely, even when it comes to the back-to-school plan.
She also suggested that a third of BC’s workforce could be taken off the job because of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, and that businesses would have to implement “contingency plans” to continue operating.
This directive was also given to BC schools.
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There’s a bit of a storm taking place on social media due to concerns about back-to-school safety in BC when it comes to COVID-19 and the highly infectious Omicron variant.
#BCedEnhancedMeasures is currently one of the top trends in Canada.
So let’s talk about school lunch hour? Can you say super spreader event? Just one kid carrying covid takes off their mask to eat and bingo we have a covid party! No #BCedEnhancedMeasures have been addressed for school lunches in any of the documents we have seen. @JM_Whiteside
— BC School Covid Tracker (@BCschoolCovid) January 5, 2022
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Henry has said that schools are safe.
“We’ve seen this consistently, and there’s no reason to think it will be different now; they are not a major source of transmission,” Henry said yesterday in regards to schools.
“We know that schools are safe. They’re the best and safest place for our children.”
Many teachers and parents do not agree.
Test positivity rate around my kids school is 47%
Only a fool takes those odds.
I don’t bet with my kids’ health. #BCedEnhancedMeasures
— Kyenta 😷 Advocate for education and health (@kyenta_m) January 5, 2022
Henry did suggest some changes should be made, like when she stated that kids should pause extra-curricular activities for now. The back-to-school date was also delayed a week, with classes scheduled to begin on January 10.
Jennifer Whiteside, BC’s Minister of Education, also suggested that safety of students would be prioritized.
Districts have been asked to prioritize the children of health care workers, students with disabilities and diverse needs, and the children of other essential workers, including teachers and school staff, as their capacity allows.#BCEd
— Jennifer Whiteside (@JM_Whiteside) January 1, 2022
While Henry maintains that the back-to-school plan for BC is safe, Jordan Tinney, Superintendent for Surrey Schools, has laid out a directive for functional closures.
A functional closure is when there isn’t enough staff available to keep operations going, which would force in-person learning to move online. Tinney suggested the district was “anticipating” functional closures due to the explosion of Omicron cases.
“It isn’t necessarily an outbreak; it just means we can’t run.”
After a functional closure is announced, staff would communicate with parents, and the following day would be a planning day. Following the planning day, classes would move online. This would force parents to figure out plans to stay home with their kids if they had no one to look after them.
“For how long? We’re yet to get really clear direction on that, but I believe it will be between seven and 10 days.”
As of 11 am on Wednesday, there were over 11,000 tweets using the hashtag #BCedEnhancedMeasures.
.@SafeSchoolsBC .@BCschoolCovid We made Twitter news! Do you think @adriandix will pay attention now?#bcpoli #BCedEnhancedMeasures pic.twitter.com/Kbrgmtkygj
— Lizanne Foster (@LizanneFoster) January 5, 2022
Henry maintained that pretty much everyone would be exposed to Omicron in BC at some point, but from the standpoint of concerned parents, teachers, and members of the larger community, enhanced measures should still be put in place.
If #bced‘s a top priority for reasons of kids’ social & emotional well-being, an obvious way of making the experience more enjoyable for all is to make schools safer.
If schools face possible functional closures, the strategy is clear: they need #BCedEnhancedMeasures!#bcpoli 🚨
— Jennifer Lloyd, Ph.D. (@JEVLloyd) January 5, 2022