British Columbia

B.C.'s lack of COVID school notices, transparent data draws criticism from parents, teachers

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that notifications would not be issued to schools for single exposures, saying the school-based letters were "more anxiety-provoking than helpful."

Dr. Bonnie Henry said parents will still be informed of clusters or outbreaks

Students are pictured on a school bus after classes end at Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 4, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's announcement Wednesday that COVID notifications would not be issued to schools for single exposures has caught some parents and teachers by surprise.

Henry said health-care workers would still do an assessment as is done for every communicable disease and every individual who is at risk will be notified.

"We have heard very clearly from people that the majority of people felt that the school-based letters were more anxiety provoking than helpful but we will absolutely be keeping the schools informed and working with the schools," Henry said. 

Henry said clusters and/or outbreaks will still be reported.

Krista Sigurdson, a parent and the chair of the parent advisory council at Lord Strathcona Elementary School in Vancouver, said the announcement was surprising for her and many others.

Sigurdson said the letters did stir a lot of anxiety among parents, but mostly because they didn't include much information — like how many cases or which classrooms the cases were in.

"It was not about [the cases'] existence," said Sigurdson. "I think the negative aspect of the anxiety here is around the fact that they didn't include enough information ... Even just a little bit more information, even if it doesn't include identifying information, could have gone a long way to allowing parents to make informed decisions." 

Lack of mask mandate for K-3 another concern

The lack of COVID notices isn't the only concern for those heading back to school. Teri Mooring, head of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, says her organization is trying to set up a meeting with public health officials to address some of those concerns. 

One of the chief concerns is the lack of a mask mandate for kindergarten to Grade 3.

"It doesn't make sense that we're going to exclude some of the children that can't be vaccinated," said Mooring. 

One of Sigurdson's children falls in the category of too young to be vaccinated, too young to have to wear a mask at school. 

"We talk to him about it and he knows that he's in a kind of special category of unvaccinated and unmasked — or at least not required to be masked — but I think it's probably difficult for him to hear constantly over and over that he's in this risky population," she said. 

"Having a mask mandate for younger kids or at least some sort of stronger version of a recommendation would be good."

Better to implement changes earlier in the year: BCTF

Mooring said teachers would rather have changes made at the start of the school year so they don't have to employ measures after the fact — which is what happened last year.

Mooring said she'd also like to see more transparent information sharing between health authorities and schools, and focused efforts on vaccinating 12- to 17-year-olds, especially in regions of the province where there is vaccine hesitancy.

"There's a lot of uncertainty. We would rather err on the side of preventative measures in schools rather than the more reactive approach that is being taken."

Health Minister Adrian Dix, speaking to guest host Michelle Eliot on CBC's The Early Edition Thursday morning, said the province will make sure everyone is informed.

"I think all of the measures that were in place in June continue to be in place to keep children safe, to keep teachers safe and so on. And we're going to continue to adapt and take measures to ensure that this is a very successful school year," Dix said.

"B.C. I think really set the standard last year for the entire country and that credit is due to our administrators, our teachers, our parents and our students."

With files from On The Coast, The Early Edition

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