SURREY (NEWS 1130) — With only two months left in the school year, teachers in B.C.’s hottest pandemic zone are demanding more students be allowed to learn from home –especially in areas where exposure rates are high.
The Surrey school district remains the hardest hit by COVID-19, even though thousands of people who work there have received their first dose of vaccine.
Lisa Davis, who teaches science and chemistry at Fraser Heights Secondary, says most of the students are still at risk.
“And they’re sitting inches from one another and, yes, maybe in some schools, the mask culture is really good, but still we don’t have a mask mandate for k-to-3.”
She’s one of many teachers –and parents– who support moving to a higher protocol measure which includes a 50-50 split of remote and in-person learning.
“If you’re ever going to use Stage 3 –50 per cent density where there’s high cases– it would be now, but it’s like, there’s just a refusal by government to even consider it.”
At the start of the school year, Davis says she –and pretty much everyone she works with– believed changes would be made if daily case numbers started to get out of control.
“A thousand per cent that’s what we all thought in September. When cases started to rise in October and they got really critical in November, we’re like, we need less density and now, with the variants, we can’t vaccinate our way out of this, but it almost seems like perhaps that was their main plan –the government. To hope we could vaccinate people fast enough, we wouldn’t have to do anything else to mitigate spread. Things are always done reactively.”
Since September, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been reluctant to close schools –saying kids are safer there than in the community, but Davis is holding out hope stronger measures will be taken before the end of June –when it may be too late.
“I just think, if not now, when? When would we move to Stage 3 if not now? I’m afraid that it’ll never happen. Does that mean that they were never willing to implement them? There’s no benchmarks that they have ever set. Does that mean you just want to leave people less protected? Other places in the States and Canada have closed.”
Davis, who received her first dose of vaccine two weeks ago, says parents are worried about the safety of their children and she’s worried about colleagues in other districts with high exposure rates.
“The system is starting to break down. The attendance is poor in some of these schools such that the kids aren’t really getting the education they need at this point. It seems like we’re at the point now where –if there’s ever a time that we could have used it, it’s now –just for there’s so many cases in Surrey.”
Henry’s repeatedly said she believes children are safer staying in school than risking exposure in the community.
Those comments have sparked sarcasm and bitter comments from critics on social media speculating about what might happen if children aren’t vaccinated before their summer break.
Davis –who has been at Fraser Heights for 17 years and in the Surrey school district for 24 years– tells NEWS 1130 she’s not demanding the full closure of schools, but moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3 of safety protocols set back in September makes sense.
“If you’re saying kids are safer in schools, what happens then? If the cases are still high and the kids aren’t vaccinated and the variants are still circulating, I mean, these variants, they’re not to be trifled with…. Literally, the kids are sitting inches from one another. In the midst of this big surge, I mean, I just don’t think that the positivity rate is going down at all. Why wouldn’t you now target the schools? So you could actually have distancing between the kids. Kind of a crazy plan to just continue on as we’re doing.”
While she’s critical of Henry and Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside for not being more proactive, Davis says she’s grateful for local administrators like Superintendent Jordan Tinney and the Fraser Health Authority who are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe.
That includes being the first district to make masks mandatory for most people in the K-to-12 system.