British Columbia

Surrey elementary school staff stage solidarity walk-in to demand greater COVID safety

École Woodward Hill Elementary School is one of seven Fraser Health region schools where the rapidly spreading coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. has been found.

Dozens rally at École Woodward Hill Elementary after detection of rapidly spreading coronavirus variant

Teachers march at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School in Surrey on Tuesday to protest how the school district and Fraser Health have handled COVID-19 safety. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Teachers and support staff at École Woodward Hill Elementary School in Surrey, B.C., staged a "solidarity walk-in" Tuesday morning to draw attention to what they say are too lax COVID-19 safety measures in light of new cases of a rapidly spreading coronavirus variant.

Dozens of school staff wore red T-shirts reading #RedforBCED as they paraded single file outside the Newton-area school before classes started.

The president of the Surrey Teachers Association said he hoped the walk-in would bring attention to staff demands for expanded safety protocols.

"The main concern is that this is a school that has had a lot of exposures and now has people isolated due to variants," said Matt Westphal.

"The current safety measures are not good enough. For example, in that whole building, not in a single classroom is any child required to wear a mask. And we think that needs to change."

École Woodward Hill Elementary is one of seven schools in the Fraser Health district where the faster-spreading coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom was detected over the weekend.

The other schools are James Ardiel Elementary, Surrey Traditional Elementary School, A.H.P. Matthew Elementary, Tamanawis Secondary, Gobind Sarvar Independent School and Hellings Elementary.

About 300 staff and students in the affected schools have been told to stay home.

On Twitter, Westphal said districts needed to be given the power to set their own COVID-19 protocols to deal with the differing pandemic conditions in different communities.

"The severity of the pandemic varies across the province, yet we have a single set of health and safety rules for all schools," he posted. 

'Not in a single classroom is any child required to wear a mask,' said Surrey Teachers Association president Matt Westphal about Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, where teachers called for more COVID-19 safety measures on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said there was no reason to change existing protocols.

"We have very robust health and safety plans in place," said Whiteside on Monday. "Where our safety plans are adhered to, we see very low rates of transmission." 

The B.C. Teachers' Federation said the government and health officials need to counter the new threat to the safety of schools and go beyond the established health and safety guidelines when necessary.

"This will help keep people in schools safe, but also prevent the variants of concern from spreading to vulnerable adults living in students' homes,'' says a statement from BCTF president Teri Mooring.

with files from Yvette Brend

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