British Columbia health officials and the Ministry of Education are looking at the option of starting the winter school break early to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province has been looking at the option “for some time” and is trying to determine whether an early break would have the intended outcome.
“We’re looking at what are the measures that help us reduce risk in our communities and therefore protect our schools more,” Henry said.
“We can see that transmission rates are less in schools than they are in other parts of our communities, and we know they are also incredibly important for families and for children to have in-person, in-class schools. But we’re looking at all of our options — there are a whole bunch of things that are happening hopefully within the next months.”
Henry has repeatedly communicated the province is prioritizing hospitals and schools over other parts of the economy. The message from public health is that cases of the virus in a school is a reflection of cases in the community, and will only go down if community spread goes down.
There has been one school in Fraser Health, Cambridge Elementary, closed due to an outbreak of the virus. The school will be closed for 14 days. There have been three other Metro Vancouver schools closed because of staffing issues connected to the virus.
Ontario has ruled out pushing up its own winter break, but is considering extending the break later into January.
Henry said the province is currently weighing the positives and negatives of making changes to the winter break before coming to its own decision.
“We know some of the downsides are that there are many essential workers in our community, and finding places for children to be safely during the day needs to be considered,” Henry said.
“We know that older children will naturally congregate in other settings. So how do we make sure that those aren’t more risky than some of the things that we’re seeing happening now?”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation said there has not been a broad conversation among teachers about whether the winter break should start early. Most students in the province are currently scheduled to be in class until Dec. 18.
Union president Teri Mooring says a lot can happen between now and mid-December and the priority should be an immediate solution. The BCTF is proposing the province cut class sizes in half in Fraser Health to allow for physical distancing and establish a more robust mask policy.
“Winter break seems light-years away right now and we know how quickly things are changing week to week,” Mooring said.
“We need action right now. We need action today. We don’t believe we can afford to wait a few more weeks.”
One of the challenges with going to break early is how parents will deal with taking care of their children. Rani Sanghera, the Cambridge Elementary Parent Advisory Committee president, says she believes parents will find ways to make it work.
“I have heard most parents are saying let school out a bit early, a week, maybe two weeks early, to get control of this so we are healthy for Christmas so we can see family and be somewhat healthy,” Sanghera said.View link »