Teachers, parents and students are preparing for a return to the classroom at a Surrey school, shuttered earlier this month due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Cambridge Elementary was closed for two weeks on Nov. 14 after at least seven cases, including at least one teacher, were confirmed.
With the reopening coming just days after Surrey’s latest school outbreak, Rani Senghera, president of the school’s parent advisory committee and mother of two students, says everyone is anxious.
Many parents are planning on keeping their kids at home until after the winter break, she said.
“They have no faith that anything has changed,” she said.
Parents got a letter Friday advising them of new guidance, suggesting students bring masks and their own water bottles and asking parents to stay off the grounds.
Classes will start two hours late on Monday to give teachers extra time to implement safety changes, breaks will be staggered, she said.
But Sanghera said parents remain in the dark about what those changes are, as the PAC was excluded from a health and safety meeting last week between teachers and the employer.
“The transparency is lacking,” she said, adding that there were numerous changes parents were hoping to see.
“Social distancing, we want our cohorts to be properly managed, tables to be changed,” she said.
“We need portables to have sinks. Parents are very, very concerned about that. We as PAC have offered to pay for them.”
She said parents also remain concerned about the school’s librarian and music teacher, each of whom interact with hundreds of students outside the cohort model.
Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, repeated his call Sunday for mandatory masks in schools and reduced classroom density.
“Right now teachers are feeling less and less confident about how things are going in Surrey,” he said.
“Everyone is wondering, when is the next school going to be, is it going to be my school. Am I at risk, and I don’t even realize it?”
With rising case numbers in the community, Westphal said the number of exposures in schools has also increased. On one day recently he said 20 different schools sent out exposure notices.
Westphal also wants to see accommodations made for teachers with medical health risks, and the reimplementation of online learning for any student who wants it.
“How far are we going to let this go before the step back and desist and do something different?” he asked.
“They set out a model with different stages, we’ve been at Stage 2 since the beginning of the school year, it’s getting bad, they haven’t made clear at what point they would move to a Stage 3 … but we think the time is overdue, frankly.”
In a statement Saturday, the Ministry of Education said it understood teachers’ concerns and would continuously review school plans, but did not commit to any changes in Surrey classrooms.
“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,” said the ministry.
“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.”
That’s not good enough for Sanghera, who said the ministry needs to develop specific guidance for crowded schools like Surrey’s.
“Look at the density of where we live,” she said.
“There’s townhomes, there’s small homes, there’s a lot more people in the community where we live.”
-With files from Grace KeView link »