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COVID-19: B.C. parents, teachers anxious as kids head back to school amid Omicron wave

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Parents, teachers anxious as kids head back to school amid Omicron wave' COVID-19: Parents, teachers anxious as kids head back to school amid Omicron wave
B.C. parents and teachers are voicing their anxiety as the province's children prepare to return to in-class learning amid the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grace Ke reports – Jan 9, 2022

Parents and teachers are voicing their anxiety as the province’s children prepare to return to in-class learning amid the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province announced its back-to-class plan Friday, which included a warning that there may be functional school closures due to staff illness, and that officials will no longer send COVID-19 exposure notices unless there are significant dips in attendance.

The plan also includes mandatory three-layer masking in indoor areas, staggered start and break times and measures to reduce crowding in common areas.

Read more: B.C. to only notify families of COVID school exposures when attendance drops

Rani Sanghera, director of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council, said parents remain highly anxious and the province’s measures don’t go far enough.

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“What we’re hearing from most parents is they’re very disappointed in the announcement,” she said.

“I think they were looking forward to hearing more about HEPA filters in the schools — they should be at their highest level, 13, which not all schools have —they were looking to see how they could make classrooms less crowded and more space between students, because we know this virus is airborne.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures' B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures
B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures – Jan 7, 2022

Sanghera said given the challenge in upgrading all schools’ ventilation systems, she was hoping to hear the province would add portable air filtration units to classrooms as has been done in Ontario.

Teachers are also unsatisfied with the back-to-school measures.

The BC Teachers’ Federation wants to see N95 masks, more distancing and improved ventilation. It’s also calling for vaccine clinics at schools for students and boosters for staff.

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Read more: B.C. school districts prepare for ‘functional closures,’ online classes amid COVID-19 surge

Ashley MacKenzie, a Surrey high school teacher, told Global News she expects to get COVID on the job.

“I am likely to become ill at some point. Once you admit that inevitability it’s a lot less stressful I suppose?” she said.

“If the expectation is that a third of employees at businesses are going to become ill, and those businesses have fewer interactions in a day than I’m likely to have, then I think there’s a pretty good probability that I and many of my coworkers are going to become ill.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside outlines how parents will be notified about COVID-19 exposures' B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside outlines how parents will be notified about COVID-19 exposures
B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside outlines how parents will be notified about COVID-19 exposures – Jan 7, 2022

MacKenzie said she is fortunate in that she has already received her booster, she doesn’t have her own children at home to worry about and she teaches mostly senior level students who are good with their masks, but she says many of her colleagues aren’t so lucky.

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The reality of “functional closures” means that already stressed teachers will find themselves with a suite of new challenges, she said.

“It means we need to be ready to pivot and build a boat as we’re sailing it, as we did early in the pandemic.”

Read more: COVID-19: Student petition calls on BCIT to further delay return to in-person learning

“Will we be able to do it? Yes. Is it what we want to do? No. We want to be in the classroom, we want to be with kids, it’s better for all of our mental health when we’re there.”

She said in-class learning is important, but believes in order to make it work the province should have implemented a partial online option to reduce classroom density, paused extra-curricular activities, and improved ventilation.

Under the province’s plan, children will continue to be required to undergo daily health checks, and stay home if they test positive or show symptoms of COVID-19. Fully vaccinated children will be able to return to class five days after the onset of symptoms, if the symptoms have resolved.

Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated kids will need to isolate for 10 days.

The province says it will also begin distributing rapid tests to schools for symptomatic staff, and that it hopes to expand access to at-home tests for symptomatic kids in the weeks to come.

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