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‘Happy it’s coming back’: BCTF president finds COVID-19 school notifications needed now more than ever

The president of the BC Teachers Federation is concerned about the spike in COVID-19 cases, but she’s happy provincial officials are bringing back the school notification system.

Currently, on Vancouver Island, schools in Comox, Nanaimo, Duncan, Port Alberni, Sooke, Shawnigan Lake, and Victoria sit on Island Health’s public notification list. In all, 10 schools are on that list.

“We were concerned about this,” Teri Mooring tells Vista Radio. “That’s why we were really pushing in August for there to be greater safety precautions taken this year, and more preventative measures taken.”

But it’s important to note that since the start of the 2021/2022 school year, health authority notification lists have only included clusters or outbreaks within schools, not single cases.

However, last Tuesday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that the Province was ready to bring back the COVID-19 school notification system.

In a press conference, Henry said it was initially her understanding the way officials provided broad school notifications during the last school year led to anxiety within school communities.

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For Mooring, the notification system is needed now more than ever, and after Henry’s announcement, she says the BCTF is “happy it’s coming back.”

UPDATE: This afternoon (Sept. 28th), Dr. Bonnie Henry said that the Province will begin posting potential exposure events within schools online again, starting today. Henry said letters won’t be sent out but noted that families needing to take extra precautions after an exposure will be notified.

Mooring says, in June, the public health office and government made decisions based on experiences from the outgoing school year for the upcoming school year. “They made decisions that cohorts would not be in place and that cleaning could be reduced. A number of safety measures that were in place last year could be relaxed,” explains Mooring.

She continues, “That was not predicated on the Delta variant, accounting for almost 100 per cent of the cases now. It seems to us there was too much of a reliance on the experience from last year. That really dictated safety processes and procedures that would be recommended for this year.”

Mooring says the BCTF is working with families to advocate for stronger safety measures to be put in place. That said, she encourages parents to speak out to their district superintendent, school trustees, or their local MLA when concerned about safety processes.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 update for B.C. pointed to just under 88 per cent of people 12 and up vaccinated with one dose, with the rate of fully vaccinated people sitting at just over 80 per cent.

But given elementary-aged students aren’t eligible for vaccinations, for Mooring, it makes “absolutely no sense” as to why kids in Kindergarten to Grade 3 aren’t required to wear masks when in school.

And together with relaxed measures and more COVID-19 cases, Mooring says the BCTF is hoping when the notification system returns it provides “really clear communication about what’s happening in schools to families, education workers, and the public.”

She’s anticipating it to return sometime this week, but she’s still concerned about the extent of the information and who it will reach.

“In other words, we understand that there are going to be notifications posted on the local health authority website, and not necessarily either mailed out or sent home to families,” Mooring adds. “We have concerns about access there, not all families across the province have access to computers, or the internet, or high-speed internet.”

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