A Surrey elementary school will be closed for two weeks after 16 people in the school community tested positive for COVID-19, prompting Fraser Health to declare an outbreak.

The health authority announced the outbreak at Newton Elementary School Friday night, saying in a news release that it had advised the Surrey School District to close the school for two weeks "to break any chains of COVID-19 transmission that may be present."

“I think my first thought was that I'm not surprised that there's another outbreak. We've been waiting for it, and frankly, we think there will be more,” said Matt Westphal with the Surrey Teachers Association.

The outbreak is the second one to be declared at a Surrey school in less than two weeks. An outbreak at Cambridge Elementary was declared on Nov. 15. That school is scheduled to reopen on Monday.

“We've been told that the layers of protection make schools extremely safe, yet transmissions are happening in schools. So I think the fact that this is happening more and more, it shows that the current plan is not adequate to deal with the conditions in the Fraser Health region and Surrey in particular,” Westphal said.

Newton Elementary will remain closed until at least Dec. 14, said district Supt. Jordan Tinney in a letter to parents shared on Twitter Friday night.

In the letter, the superintendent describes the outbreak declaration as an "exceptional step."

"A school outbreak is defined as a significant number of cases likely to have occurred on-site, that extend beyond a classroom or administrative area," Tinney wrote.

This weekend, families with students at Newton Elementary should expect to receive information from the school on remote learning during the closure, Tinney's letter said.

“There's no point closing a school, if you're going to open it up with nothing else changing because, likely, unless something changes outside of the school, you're going to start to see the same thing,” Westphal said.

Surrey teachers and parents at Cambridge Elementary said they only know of a couple new measures that will be introduced when the school reopens Monday.

“They're only doing this staggering lunch and recess, which the parents feel like is not enough on their part,” said Rani Senghera, the president of the Cambridge Parents Advisory Council. “Parents are again frustrated because we want better cleaning protocols; they want kids not to be facing each other; they want kids to have more social distancing between them; they want cohorts to be separated.”

Teachers have been calling for a mask mandate and for class sizes to be cut in half, especially in Surrey schools where the majority of school exposures are currently happening.

In a statement to CTV News, the Ministry of Education said, “We will continue to work with the PHO and our education partners to ensure K-12 guidelines and school district safety plans are providing the safest possible learning environments for students and staff as we navigate a global pandemic together.

“Schools mirror what’s happening in our communities, and while that means we’ve seen cases in schools - we're still seeing low transmissions rates inside our schools.”

The ministry said $290 million in provincial and federal funding was used to purchase personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and to hire more staff.

It also said it will continue to review school guidelines.

 

Tonight, we met with @Fraserhealth and they have declared an outbreak at Newton Elementary. Effective today, the school is closed and is scheduled to re-open on Dec. 14th @CityofSurrey #surreybc #InItTogether #staysafe Emails out to staff. pic.twitter.com/o0zYwPVZFO

— Jordan Tinney (@jordantinney) November 28, 2020