Surrey teachers, staff march in solidarity of schools with COVID-19 variants
SURREY, B.C. -- Dozens of teachers, support staff, and parents held a solidarity rally outside École Woodward Hill Elementary School in South Newton Tuesday morning.
The school is one of seven in the Fraser Health region that’s had a case of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, a highly contagious strain commonly associated with the U.K.
The so called “walk-in” aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of having the variant inside a classroom and to show support for other schools that have been impacted.
Participants wore red and walked around the school before the morning bell, carrying flags.
Staff told CTV News the goal of the event was to be there for each other in a time of uncertainty.
“To support our teachers and our school,” said Andrea, an educational assistant at the School.
Classes were not disrupted by the march.
“We just want to make sure the safety protocols are up to date and with so many cases we want to feel safe to come to work,” said Carly, another educational assistant participating in the walk-in.
Two classes and 30 people at École Woodward are self-isolating after they were notified of the exposure on Saturday.
The Surrey School District says they will have to remain at home until March 4.
Roughly 300 students and staff across Surrey are also in isolation due to the variant.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has been calling for a mandatory mask policy inside elementary schools, but health officials doubled down on their stance Monday, saying it’s not necessary.
“I would say based on what we know about the new variants of covid 19 I would not recommend a change in our masking recommendation,” said Dr. Reka Gustafson, deputy provincial health officer in a news conference Monday.
Teachers also want to have more say in the protocols implemented in their school districts. They’re asking for districts to have the power to reduce occupancy in the classroom when there's an exposure and in the case of a variant, even cancel in-person classes all together.
“We need to make changes, if we’re going to make changes, based on evidence. and at the moment we need to let this process unfold and find out precisely what happened,” said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s education minister.
Teachers disagree with that stance.
"There's a real risk that if we wait and see, what if by the time we realize if this really starts to snowball with the variants, it might be too late to prevent it from getting established,” said Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers’ Association.
"The message is that schools need to be safer. The current measures are not sufficient for a variant. That's our concern."
Westphal expects Tuesday's rally is just one of many to come.