B.C. teachers concerned back-to-school COVID-19 protocols not enough

When B.C. students return to their kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms on Tuesday, school will be a lot closer to normal than it was last year.

Hybrid learning and cohorts are no more. Students in grades 4 through 12 will have to wear masks, but some teachers are worried that’s not enough to keep the Delta variant from spreading.

“We need a broader mask mandate. There has been no appropriate rationale given for why kindergarten to Grade 3 students are being excluded,” said B.C. Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring.

Surrey high school teacher Lizanne Foster agrees.

“Millions of children in Japan and Taiwan and Singapore all wear masks from the age of two upwards. I don’t know why our children are not seen as capable of doing what millions of other children do,” she said.

Burnaby elementary school teacher Jennifer Heighton also wants a mask mandate for all grades.

“If you’re in a kindergarten to Grade 6 classroom, all of the students cannot be vaccinated. So there needs to be extra protections to help keep them safe,” she said.

Teachers also want to ensure every classroom has proper ventilation.

“Ventilation is really important because in classrooms there is no distancing happening, it’s going to be a full return,” said Heighton.

“We don’t know if every school and every classroom has appropriate mitigation strategies in place when those ventilation systems aren’t adequate,” added Mooring.

There wasn’t widespread transmission in B.C. schools last school year, and the province is confident this school year will be no different. But teachers aren’t so sure.

“Last year’s strain was not nearly as transmissible as this year's strain, and that’s why its so concerning,” said Heighton.

Foster worries without more precautions in place, she can’t keep her students safe.

“I think there is going to be large numbers of kids sick, maybe not in high school, but in elementary school. And of course my students have siblings in elementary school, so the whole family is impacted," she said.

After spending last school year advocating for tougher COVID-19 safety measures in schools, Foster is disappointed there are even fewer protocols now.

“This year I just feel like a heaviness, like a deep despair,” she said, describing it as “a kind of helplessness, and hopelessness.”