Anxieties grow among teachers and parents pushing for partial shutdown of in-classroom learning

A surge in COVID-19 cases, coupled with worries about variants of concern, has left many parents and teachers in Greater Victoria feeling anxious about full, in-person classroom learning at local schools.

Some parents, like Gord Canning, have made the decision to not have their children attend classes in person. His son is in Grade 10 at Oak Bay High School, where there was recently an exposure.

“His fears, as well as ours, were elevated, so we made the decision to keep him home,” said Canning on Wednesday.

The Canning family isn’t alone. At Colwood's Dunsmuir MIddle School, where there was a recent exposure, one-third of the school stayed home Tuesday and Wednesday.

And at Saanich’s Cedar Hill Middle School, where there have been three exposure notices this month – including one on Monday – 40 per cent of the students weren’t at school Tuesday and 38 per cent were absent Wednesday.

Winona Waldron is the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association. She says parents’ heightened anxiety is also seen in teachers, and should be taken seriously.

“I think if parents are deciding it’s too risky to send kids to school, we need to stop and take note of that,” said Waldron.

Waldron points to surging cases, variants and a recent move to online learning only in the City of Toronto as evidence of the need for change. She thinks B.C. should move to a hybrid model that would involve both in-classroom and online learning.

“To make sure that we keep schools open in some capacity, but also protect our population, it seems like now is the time to make those changes,” she said.

British Columbia Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Tuesday that she understood the growing anxieties of teachers and parents, but in-classroom learning will carry on, and there are no plans for a hydrid model.

“We have very robust and comprehensive safety plans in place in our schools, and those plans are working,” said Whiteside.

On Tuesday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry assured parents that schools are safer than having kids learning from home.

“We see cases go up when children are not in school. and that’s because they have other unstructured time, and children need school,” said Henry.

Dr. Brian Conway, president and CEO of the the Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre, shares Henry’s perspective.

Conway says the situation in Toronto is different from B.C. in a couple of key ways. Not only is Ontario implementing a more major lockdown of all aspects of its society, but also, the community spread has been more rampant there than it is here.

“On balance, a decision that makes sense for British Columbia is to leave the children in school,” said Conway.

But, no doubt, many parents and teachers will continue to keep a close and anxious eye on the province’s case counts.

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