B.C. parents and educators call for better COVID-19 protection this fall
Ministry of Education says it's working closely with public health experts on guidelines
Dozens of parents, educators and students rallied at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday, demanding better protection from COVID-19 when children return to school.
The protesters called for more safety measures to protect students, especially those under 12 who aren't eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
"Plans for having minimal restrictions in K-12 schools coming up is not going to be good enough," said Jennifer Heighton with the Safe Schools Coalition. "The delta variant is causing a rapid rise in cases and Kindergarten to Grade 6 students will be unvaccinated."
On Friday, B.C. reported more than 700 new COVID-19 cases as the province enters what appears to be a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Heighton says parents and school staff want more than just a mask mandate. They also want better ventilation in schools and remote learning options for vulnerable families.
Preventative versus reactive measures
According to the B.C. Teacher's Federation, many of these measures are being discussed, but no decisions have been made. And with just a few weeks left until the start of a new school year, the federation wants the province to be proactive.
"We have been advocating for preventative measures all along but instead we get more reactive measures once they are needed," said B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring.
"We are calling on the government to make things happen."
In a written statement, the Ministry of Education said it continues to work with public health experts to finalize plans and it intends to have further details later this month.
"We will base our safety plans on the most current information on the virus and the rollout of the provincial vaccination campaign," the ministry said.
Remote learning requests
It added that several measures have been put in place to upgrade ventilation in schools, including $10 million in pandemic-specific funding to update more than 45,000 air or ventilation filters, with a further $14.4 million coming this school year.
The heating and air conditioning systems at more than 400 schools have been upgraded in the last four years, the ministry said.
Some parents at the rally said their concerns were serious enough to consider keeping their children at home this year.
Parent Nathalie Kas, whose children are under 12, said the Vancouver School Board told her that her kids would lose their spots if their schools were full and they didn't attend in person.
With files from Christina Jung