British Columbia

B.C. Teachers' Federation calls on province to cap class sizes in Fraser Health region at 15

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is calling on the province to immediately reduce the number of students per class to 15 in the Fraser Health region, as cases in the area continue to surge.

Teachers say contact tracing in health region can't keep up with number of cases

Students line up outside at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey in September. The Fraser Health region has seen the biggest spike in cases in the last few weeks, but health authorities say schools aren't a major source of transmission. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. Teachers' Federation is calling on the province to immediately reduce the number of students per class to 15 in the Fraser Health region, as COVID-19 cases in the region continue to surge.

In a letter posted to Twitter Saturday morning, BCTF president Teri Mooring wrote that the rise in cases is of deep concern to teachers working in that health authority.

"With class sizes what they are now, teachers find it virtually impossible to maintain physical distancing in classes," she wrote.

COVID-19 cases in B.C. are doubling every 13 days, according to the latest epidemiological modelling presented by the province. The data shows that over the past two weeks cases have been intensely focused in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. 

Last Saturday, officials announced broad new COVID-19 restrictions specific to those two health regions. The new orders focus on social gatherings, travel, indoor group exercise and workplaces, and are in effect until noon on Nov. 23. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the modelling shows that so far schools have not been a major source of transmission, with nine out of 10 schools having no exposure. There have been exposures in 261 of B.C.'s 1,942 schools.

But Henry said that the increase in cases, particularly in the Fraser Health region, is putting a strain on the province's ability to conduct rapid contact tracing.

"With our rapid increase in numbers of COVID-19, this has been put in jeopardy. The ability to find everybody … has been stretched to the max, and we have fallen a little bit behind," she said on Thursday.

Teachers 'on the front lines'

Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers' Association, said the delays are being noticed by teachers in the Fraser Health region, who feel they're now "on the front lines" of COVID-19 in B.C.

"Just yesterday there was a meeting where we were told there was some exposure on Oct. 30. Not sure what we're supposed to do with that information," Westphal said Friday, two weeks after the exposure. 

"We had a teacher that was told, 'You should be self-monitoring for symptoms within this 14-day period,' and they got [that notice] on the very last day of the period. And that sort of thing is really causing concerns about how much of a handle Fraser Health has to cope with such a high number of cases."

Westphal said teachers want to keep schools open, but he believes the regional approach the province has brought in for restrictions on social gatherings should also be implemented in schools.

"I think we've moved past the point where we can have a one-size-fits-all solution for all schools in the province," he said.

"We think we need a stepping back. Otherwise, it just feels like we're ignoring some of the realities on the ground here."

With files from Jon Hernandez


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