British Columbia

B.C. parents generally approve of COVID-19 policies at schools: poll

A new poll shows parents in British Columbia are generally pleased with the government's back-to-school pandemic plans. 

According to the poll, 58 per cent of British Columbians approve of the province's return to school plan

A physical distancing sign is seen during a media tour of Hastings Elementary school in Vancouver, Wednesday, September 2, 2020. The Vancouver School Board put on a tour to show the COVID-19 precautions being taken to help keep children safe in the new school year. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A new poll shows parents in British Columbia are generally pleased with the government's back-to-school pandemic plans. 

According to the poll from Insights West, 58 per cent of B.C. residents support the government's current approach to schools, and when the poll focused on parents exclusively, that number jumped to 70 per cent. 

Steve Mossop, president of Insights West, says the results were surprising. 

"The information that we hear on social media in general is that parents are unhappy," Mossop said.

"[But] we're sitting at levels of 70 per cent, which in the province of British Columbia is a pretty high number for approval ratings." 

When asked about the province's response versus their child's school execution of the COVID-19 policies, parents expressed similar levels of approval on clear instructions on protocols and rules (66 per cent for the province, 72 per cent for the schools), and cleaning protocols (68 per cent for the province's rules and 63 per cent for the schools' execution of the cleaning). 

There were some discrepancies on how schools enforced social distancing in accordance to the provincial rules and on how they enforced the mask policy.

Communication, said Mossop, was a major concern.

Concerns about health authority communications

Rina Diaz, a parent on Bear Creek Elementary School's Parent Advisory Committee in Surrey, B.C., says she has largely been satisfied with the school's and the Surrey School District's pandemic policies — even as COVID-19 numbers continue to spike in the region

"The staff is very caring at Bear Creek Elementary," Diaz said. "I always see staff wearing masks both inside and out. So I do feel that my children are safe."

But Diaz says she does have issues with the communications from the Fraser Health Authority, noting that the district and the school often issue letters about outbreaks much sooner than the health authority. 

Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, says this lag in information is concerning.

A teacher might hear about a positive case from students or colleagues before it's officially announced, and one teacher who was exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 received their notice to self-monitor on the last day of the 14-day period, he said. 

"The more cases there are, the more these time lags are in the system, that's really eroding the confidence. And I'm not sure where this is headed," Westphal said. 

Closures and exposures amid rising cases

There have been more than 260 exposures tied to B.C. schools so far. As of Monday, at least four schools in the Fraser Health authority have temporarily closed in connection to outbreaks or exposure to the novel coronavirus.

"That sort of thing is really causing a lot of concern about how much of a handle Fraser Health has to cope with the high volume of cases," Westphal said.

A new poll from Insights West says B.C. parents largely approve of the province's back to school plans during the COVID pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Teri Mooring, president of the BCTF, has called on the province to cap class sizes in the Fraser Health authority to 15 and introduce a mandatory mask policy for the hard-hit region.

But it was still heartening, she said, to hear parents commend the efforts of teachers and staff during this time.

"It's a real testament to teachers continuing to do their best to keep students safe, even though they have concerns themselves," Mooring said. 

The poll's results came from an online study conducted from Nov. 4 to 8, 2020 among a sample of 802 B.C. residents and 315 parents of children in elementary, middle or high school. 

A comparable margin of error for a study of this size would be +/- 3.5 percentage points for B.C. residents and +/- 5.5 for parents of school children, 19 times out of 20.

With files from BC Today, Andrea Ross