Many elementary and secondary students across BC headed back to in-person classes on Monday, despite concerns from parents and teachers that there aren’t adequate protections in schools against Omicron.
BC extended the winter break by one week as cases surged, but in-person learning resumed on January 10 with the same protection measures used during previous waves of COVID-19.
“We’re not seeing a responsiveness based on the fact that Omicron is different,” BC Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring told Daily Hive. “We’re not seeing any additional measures above and beyond what was in place for the Delta.”
Schools are providing three-layer surgical masks for students this year, despite calls from BCTF to upgrade to N95 masks. Plus, there’s the issue of getting students to wear their masks all day.
“There’s been a lot of mixed messaging around mask wearing in schools and as a result, we are seeing issues around compliance,” Mooring said. “That’s the number one issue that is brought to my attention whenever I talk to teachers.”
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Mooring is also concerned about access to booster shots for teachers, many of whom are starting the winter term with only two doses. The BCTF is calling for teachers to be prioritized for booster shots, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said teachers were already moved to the front of the line for their first two doses — meaning their six-month mark of eligibility for a third dose should be relatively early as well.
Schools are also implementing crowd-control measures and moving meetings and assemblies online, but half of the school districts in the province still don’t have a MERV-13 air filter in place, which Mooring said is the minimum standard.
On top of that, schools still don’t have access to rapid test kits for students or teachers, and the BC government has not yet provided details on its rollout strategy.
Another point of concern is BC’s lack of COVID-19 case reporting and tracing capacity. BC has scrapped its school case reporting protocol and will now declare a COVID-19 outbreak when more than 10% of students are out sick from school.
“I think it’s going to be quite stressful for school communities because they really won’t know how their school is doing until there’s a critical mass of people that are sick.”
Gord Lau, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, told Daily Hive that he’s feeling very uneasy about sending his two kids back to school this week.
“I’m more nervous than I have been for my kids going back to school than I have been the entire time,” he said.
Ultimately, he decided to send them because no one in his family has underlying health problems that put them at heightened risk during a COVID-19 infection, and both he and his wife are vaccinated.
His high-school-aged child is double vaccinated, but his elementary child only has one dose — and Lau is worried about lunchtime, when the student will be eating in a room with 20 to 25 other kids without a mask.
Similar to Mooring, Lau wishes schools had better air filtration, N95 masks, better case and contact tracing, and in-school COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children.
“I think parents are glad to have the kids go back to in-person school, but also a little bit nervous and wishing additional measures could have been taken.”