Twenty thousand people have signed a petition calling on British Columbia to extend students’ winter break, amid COVID-19 concerns.
The petition, which has been active for less than a week, calls for a two-week delay in the return to school.
It also asks parents to pull their kids out of school on the first scheduled day of classes in protest.
“B.C. has seen a massive uptake in COVID-19 cases in the past month,” states the petition, noting that daily new cases have climbed from about 100 in October to more than 500 this week.
“Dr. Bonnie Henry has put in new health measures but cases still keep on increasing. Not to mention the new strain of COVID-19, we need to figure out a new plan for our schools.”
Ontario has delayed the return to classrooms, and will have students take part in online learning next week.
The U.K., where the new COVID-19 variant was first identified, has also pushed the return of classes back.
Kathy Marliss, who operates the B.C. School COVID tracker Facebook page, said the response to the petition is unsurprising.
“It sends a very clear message to our (provincial) health officer that people are not feeling safe with the existing school plan,” she said.
READ MORE: Coronavirus: List of B.C. school exposures
Marliss said many parents using the Facebook group have expressed concerns that other families haven’t followed COVID-19 orders over the holidays.
She said parents need time to see what happens with new case numbers before deciding what to do with their kids.
“A good solution could even be to start school on Monday like we did in June: make it voluntary,” she said.
“So those families that feel their kids need to be there, can, and those that would feel much more comfortable, more safe staying home can do that as well.”
Concern over the return to school is particularly acute in Surrey, which has been one of the epicenters of COVID-19 transmission.
Of 384 school exposures in the Fraser Health region since the summer, 133 were in Surrey, according to provincial data.
Transmission occurred in 49 schools the province said, nearly half of them (23) in Surrey.
Surrey District Parents Advisory Council spokesperson Rani Senghera said parents want to be given choices such as online education.
“Most parents are concerned that they don’t have any options,” she said.
“They’ve never given an option to decide for themselves what’s best for their families and what they can choose for their kids. It’s either come to school or there’s no school.”
Parents in Surrey also want to see the in-school safety model beefed up to include proper handwashing stations in every classroom, mandatory masks and lower classroom density.
“Parents have been asking for all this stuff way before Christmas was here,” she said. “Those concerns didn’t just go away because we were out of school for two weeks.”
The province has maintained that classroom learning is safe, and that while there have been exposures in at least 526 B.C. schools, transmission has been rare.
At her Thursday briefing, Henry said the province had no plans to delay the resumption of classes but had created a task force to learn from the experience of the first semester and improve communications.
Students are scheduled to return to the classroom on Monday.View link »