The Surrey School District has sent out more than 2,000 COVID-19 exposure letters since the start of the school year.
District superintendent Jordan Tinney revealed the eye-popping number as he laid out enhanced school safety protocols in a video to parents and staff on Sunday.
“It is exhausting for those staff and their communities to receive an unending stream of letters and notices,” Tinney said.
“The families of schools, to be specific, in Tamanawis, Ecole Panorama Ridge, Frank Hurt, Sullivan Heights, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, LA Matheson and Enver Creek and Gilford Park, those families of schools have seen over 670 letters in the first 25 weeks of school. That’s an average of 30 letters per week.”
Those district exposure notices included 907 letters of exposure, 1,077 letters asking an entire class to self-monitor, 91 asking full classes to self-isolate, and two outbreaks.
Just eight schools have not received an exposure notice yet. Only 22 have had one or fewer notice.
On Saturday alone, Tinney said the district had mailed self-monitoring letters to 17 classes and 40 letters of self-isolation, which included one to a full class, two to teachers and 37 to individuals.
“That’s a pretty typical day for Surrey,” Tinney said.
The latest publicly-available data on school transmissions, released during the province’s December modeling update, showed just under 13 per cent of exposures in Surrey schools resulted in transmission.
Surrey faces greater challenges than other districts in part because it is in a COVID-19 hot-spot for community transmission, and because it faces crowding in a number of overcapacity schools.
On Sunday, Tinney revealed a three-layered COVID-19 intervention plan that is a provincial first.
The primary layer is to be implemented district wide, while additional layers will be “targeted” or “intensive” depending on the situation at individual schools.
At the “all schools” layer, the district will have staff reaffirm mandatory masks in secondary schools when students aren’t seated at their desk or eating, and remind staff to organize classroom furniture to maximize physical distancing.
It also incudes one day a month when classes will be dismissed early so educators can meet to review health and safety plans, and a ban on district staff visiting schools unless absolutely necessary.
The “targeted” layer will be implemented at individual schools based on community prevalence of the virus or because of exposures.
This layer would work to keep as many adults out of the building as possible, with a ban on external public visitors and all non-emergency maintenance scheduled outside of schools hours.
All staff meetings would be virtual, and lunch times would be reviewed with the potential of having multiple lunch periods.
The layer also aims to minimize so-called “platooning,” where teachers with a specialty in a particular subject, say math or geography, would swap classes with a teacher of a different specialty.
“We want to move to a place where it’s one teacher one class, and not teaching across cohorts,” Tinney said.
The third, “intensive” tier would be implemented in consultation with Fraser Health in cases of increased community prevalence or repeated exposures.
“This includes sites that may have multiple exposures or several classes or individuals in self isolation,” Tinney said.
“Right now, our only interventions, of course, are to make sure the guidelines are in place to the greatest extent possible. And then if things get out of control, we end up all the way in an outbreak. And how do we avoid that? How do we have something in between?”
This tier would see administrators working with staff to reduce informal gatherings and monitor shared spaces such as staff rooms or copy rooms to ensure physical distancing, masking and cleaning.
It would also consider moving all prep time in elementary schools to a common scheduled time before school starts, which would involve adjusting school start times by 22 minutes.
Tinney acknowledged that change could have an impact on parents’ scheduling, but said it could be necessary to help avoid having individual educators teaching across multiple cohorts.
The intensive tier would also see Surrey schools work with Fraser Health towards targeting entire classes for isolation when it becomes clear the exposure situation is severe enough.
“We’ve seen a number of situations where we might have five, six, as many as 10 individual students isolated out of a class,” Tinney said.
“We would just want a conversation about why would we not isolate the whole class? We think we can provide continuity of instruction and it is likely safer for all.”
The third tier would also involve cracking down on parents and students hanging around school grounds at the end of the day, and could also involve moving Surrey’s StrongStart program fully online.
On Saturday, parents and the Surrey Teachers Association said they were pleased to see Surrey move beyond the province’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to COVID-19 school safety.
But both groups said they were concerned the new plan does not implement masks in elementary schools or reduce class size or density.