Leaders of the BCTF in the Fraser Health region are calling on the health authority to make changes in schools as the “status quo” is unacceptable. (Pixabay photo)

Leaders of the BCTF in the Fraser Health region are calling on the health authority to make changes in schools as the “status quo” is unacceptable. (Pixabay photo)

‘Status quo is unacceptable’: BCTF calls on Fraser Health to improve school safety

BCTF calling for mandatory masks, prioritizing vaccinations for school staff, reducing density

Leaders of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) in the Fraser Health region are calling on the health authority to increase COVID-19 safety measures in schools, including mandatory masks and prioritizing vaccination of school staff.

In a letter published four days after the re-start of school after winter break, 12 BCTF local presidents called on Fraser Health to double down on efforts to make schools safer for staff, students and families. Specifically, they are calling for Fraser Health to work with government partners and school districts to improve contact tracing, reduce density to allow for physical distancing, make masks mandatory in all indoor spaces, prioritize vaccinations for school staff and provide clearer definitions around declaring outbreaks at schools.

“We’re speaking out together in solidarity for those members who are working in the schools where health and safety standards are inadequate, inconsistent, or unsafe,” read the Jan. 8 statement signed by presidents of local teacher’s unions and associations from Burnaby to the Fraser Cascade school district.

”Many schools in the Fraser Health region are not safe enough and the status quo is unacceptable,” the letter stated, adding that many people in schools feel unsafe and families are also worried about COVID-19 entering their homes through transmissions at school.

“Across the Fraser Health region, mask use is inconsistent, cohorts easily break down, and there is little room for physical distancing, especially in schools that are full or over capacity,” the letter stated. “As a result, the layers of protection do not exist in many of our schools like they do in most other indoor public spaces.”

Contact tracing needs to be improved, the letter stated, citing issues with exposure notices arriving near the end of the two-week monitoring period “too late to help anyone.” The response to an outbreak at Surrey’s Earl Marriott Secondary, with now close to 50 cases linked to it, was singled out as problematic. “If the superintendent didn’t go public, it is unclear if any exposure letters or other notifications would have been sent out to staff and families,” the letter stated.

The letter also cited a “likely outbreak” at an elementary school in Burnaby, where no outbreak was declared and no classes received isolation letters despite “a number of staff and students in the same week [contracting] COVID-19.”

While schools across the region are receiving exposure notices, the letter cited a lack of clarity around when outbreaks or in-school transmissions took place. This pushes people to search out information on social media, they added. The presidents are therefore requesting “clear definition and rationale for the threshold to declare an outbreak in a school.”

The letter called for reduced density in schools as “desks are often less than a metre apart and many facilities have poor ventilation.” And as physical distancing isn’t possible in most schools, the signatories say masks should be mandatory in all indoor spaces.

As vaccinations begin across the province, the BCTF wants Fraser Health to ensure educators and school staff are prioritized to receive the vaccine.

Signatories of the Jan. 8 letter are presidents of the following organizations: Syndicat des enseignantes et enseignants du programme francophone de la C.-B, Langley Teachers’ Association, Abbotsford Teachers’ Union, Coquitlam Teachers’ Association, Chilliwack Teachers’ Association, Mission Teachers’ Union, Fraser-Cascade Teachers’ Association, Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, Burnaby Teachers’ Association, Surrey Teachers’ Association, New Westminster Teachers’ Union and Delta Teachers’ Association.

More to follow.

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