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Call for smaller class sizes as COVID exposures rise in Central Okanagan schools

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Central Okanagan school exposures rise after spring break' COVID-19: Central Okanagan school exposures rise after spring break
COVID-19: Central Okanagan school exposures rise after spring break – Apr 6, 2021

The argument for smaller class sizes in B.C. has never taken on such gravitas as it has during this pandemic, with teacher representatives pleading with the province to keep both students and school staff safer.

“This is a terrible situation,” said Susan Bauhart, president of the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association, when it comes to the sudden rise of COVID-19 exposures in local schools.

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B.C. officials announce new ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions to curb spread of COVID-19 transmission – Mar 29, 2021

“Physical distancing remains one of the big things,” Bauhart said. “Distancing needs to be addressed in schools. We have classes that are cram-packed.”

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More than one out of every four Central Okanagan schools reported a case of the disease on the last day of spring break, Easter Monday.

“It’s very concerning,” she said.

Read more: B.C. reports 1,068 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths

Bauhart said staff in the Central Okanagan School District (S.D. No. 23) are becoming increasingly nervous as not only COVID-19 case numbers surge across the province, but so have the number of more contagious variants.

On Tuesday, there were 266 active cases of COVID-19 variants in B.C., according to B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who noted that number was only three per cent of the total currently active virus cases in B.C.

And while Henry acknowledged officials have talked about shutting down schools to once again help flatten the curve, she said COVID-19 cases have, so far, only risen when children are not in school.

Read more: B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine registration website holds up amid opening day pressure

“Children need school,” Dr. Henry said. “We know it is a safe place for them.”

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Bauhart said the mask mandate for students in Grades 4 to 12 was a good first step three weeks ago, but said it’s important to address the challenge of physical distancing as virus and variant case numbers remain high.

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“Teachers, support staff, administrators: I applaud their efforts,” Bauhart said.

“They are first-line workers in a very uncertain world right now with the variant. They’re doing everything that they can to make it good for the children.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Okanagan schools spend federal aid on cleaning over air quality improvements

Bauhart is urging teachers to open windows as much as possible to help ventilate classrooms until all schools are fitted with MERV 13 filters, which is recommended by the B.C. government but has not been fully implemented in all facilities, she said.

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“They keep telling us that all of the safety precautions that are in our schools are there and will keep our teachers safe, and our students safe,” said Bauhart.

“But nothing has really changed in terms of those precautions since September. What has changed is the variant and how quickly it spreads.”

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Big increase in COVID-19 variant cases in B.C – Apr 5, 2021

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