Home-sewn masks help people contain their own droplets, but before going out, ensure a secure fit and don’t fiddle with it or touch your face until you return and remove it. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Chilliwack teachers and EAs concerned with health and safety plans

As schools get ready to open, many worry measures won’t be enough to protect students from COVID-19

School staff who work the closest with students will not be required to wear masks or gloves on the job in Chilliwack.

Educational assistants (EAs) are in close physical contact with students throughout their shifts, often working with children with special needs who require physical assistance continually. With schools reopening here on Monday, June 1, many are voicing concerns over that lack of required personal protection equipment (PPE).

Several EAs and teachers in the Chilliwack School District have contacted The Progress regarding the reopening plan, highlighting problematic areas. They don’t want to use their names for fear of reprisal.

“Those of us who work with kids requiring medical procedures, toileting, feeding, etc., we will not be provided with anything,” one elementary school EA said. “We were told again today (May 28) to just do what we’ve always done.”

EAs are “stunned,” she said.

While the school district says that everyone is to be respected for their decision to wear masks or other protective equipment, it is not being required. PPE is also not being provided by the district.

When questioned by the public during a Q&A session at the end of the May 26 school board meeting, the acting superintendent said they are following guidelines from the provincial health officer and the Ministry of Education.

READ MORE: In-class learning optional for students in Chilliwack

“On all of the ministry documentation that has come out since March 17 … they talk about the fact that when it comes to a school setting it is not required,” Rohan Arul-pragasam said. If the ministry or Dr. Bonnie Henry were to make changes to recommendations, the district would follow those changes, he added.

But there are other concerns in keeping children, staff and teachers safe in an environment that includes a lot of touch points. That includes playgrounds, which will be open to students to use.

Another concern is washrooms.

One teacher said they’ve been told the washrooms will be cleaned twice a day.

“Is that really enough?” she wonders.

“Many guidelines that have been set out by The Ministry of Health and WorkSafe BC are not being implemented in schools,” she adds. “Some safety protocol is being ignored. We are also being told in SD33 that our only choices are medical leave or leave without pay, when the government said teachers with underlying conditions would be given accommodations to work remotely.”

Overall, she says, there is a “long list of problems… and we are being given no reassurances.”

Arul-pragasam answered numerous questions in the question period, and that video is available on the Chilliwack School District’s YouTube channel. He said they want to try to encourage as many students as possible to return to class, and that they are connecting with families right up until the end of the day Friday (May 29) to get a full picture of what to expect on Monday.

“I’m optimistic that we are going to have a population attend in a timely manner staring June 1, which would mean all the schools will be full, given the new safety measures.”

Parents with detailed questions or concerns should contact their school administration directly, he added.

READ MORE: More COVID-19 restrictions being lifted across the country


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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