A reminder to students and staff at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

A reminder to students and staff at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

‘We are not safe,’ Surrey Teachers’ Association says in letter to Dr. Henry

Open letter says teachers are ‘impacted daily by COVID-19’

The Surrey Teachers’ Association has penned an open letter to B.C.’s top doctor, saying they feel unsafe in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the letter to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the STA said there are 6,000 teachers in B.C.’s largest school district, teaching 75,000 students in 130 schools across the city.

“Some are so severely overcrowded that there are as many as 20 portables on the fields or parking lots. Every small prep room, cupboard, and alcove is being used as a teaching space or workspace,” says the letter signed by STA first vice-president Julia MacRae. “In normal times, overcrowding is the source of almost every problem and tension in our school district, and in the pandemic the overcrowding is hazardous.

“We are not safe.”

READ ALSO: Schools exempt from new mask mandate, but concern mounting in Surrey, Nov. 20, 2020

MacRae said teachers are “impacted daily by COVID-19,” and doing their best to meet the guidelines.

The letter asks Henry to change the requirement for all students to be attending class at the same time, to reconsider making masks mandatory in schools and to implement 50 per cent density in classrooms.

“Cohorts have been established but there is intermixing that can’t be controlled in hallways, playgrounds, and at lunch hour,” explained MacRae. “We simply don’t have the space to ensure physical distancing in our schools, and we require a reduction in density to make that possible.

“In any other indoor public setting, there would be fines to have 30 people sitting close together in one 75 square meter space without masks. In jurisdictions across the world, students wear masks inside classrooms. It’s one of the most important layers of protection against the transmission of the virus.”

MacRae added that teachers have contracted COVID-19, with at least one spending time in hospital in the intensive care unit. Two schools have had to shut down, and at other schools cohorts have had to self-isolate.

“There are daily staff meetings to address exposure notifications, and there have been hundreds of those.”

Darlene Lourenco, the music teacher at Cambridge Elementary, spent two weeks in hospital after contracting COVID-19, which she suspected she caught at school.

READ ALSO: Surrey music teacher at home after two-week hospital stay battling COVID-19, Nov. 28, 2020

READ ALSO: Surrey school that shut down due to COVID-19 outbreak set to reopen next week, Nov. 26

READ ALSO: Second Surrey elementary school declares COVID-19 outbreak, closes for two weeks, Nov. 27, 2020

Cambridge shut down Nov. 14 through 30 after Fraser Health declared an outbreak, and Newton Elementary reopened on Dec. 14 after declaring an outbreak on Nov. 27.

According to the letter, there is a lack of substitute teachers, “which is a symptom of the teacher shortage, but mostly because so many are retired teachers who are afraid of getting COVID-19 at school.”

MacRae added the STA is asking the Ministry of Health to listen to teachers “about the reality of our experiences.”

This isn’t the first time the STA has sent a letter to officials.

On Nov. 27, the association outlined three demands that the district should implement “immediately”: all students and staff be “required to wear a non-medical mask” when physical distancing is not possible in all places in schools; the district needs to “immediately move to implement a variant of Stage 3,” with a maximum 50 per cent density for all classes; the district needs to reopen online learning programs for those families that choose to not send their children to school; and “accommodations need to be provided for immunocompromised teachers and/or with medically supported health concerns.”

That letter was sent to school trustees and district administrative staff.

CoronavirusEducation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock Public Library (File photo)
Surrey, White Rock literacy leaders kick off Family Literacy Week

Literacy events to take place Jan. 24 to 31

Laura Barnes is to feature some of her artwork at Gallery at Central Plaza next month. (Contributed photo)
New artist showcase coming to White Rock gallery

Laura Barnes work, mixing brights and darks, to be displayed in February

Surrey Community Cat Foundation received funding to assist with medical procedures. (File photo)
SurreyCats receives grant to assist with spay/neuter costs

PetSmart Charities of Canada donates $5,000

Beds are set up at the emergency response centre at the North Surrey Recreation Centre. (Contributed file photo)
26 people test positive for COVID-19 at Surrey emergency shelter

Centre located at North Surrey Recreation Centre

Surrey firefighters respond to a townhouse fire Sunday morning. (Shane MacKichan photos)
Firefighters respond to townhouse fire in Surrey

Fire ‘knocked down quickly’: witness

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

sd
VIDEO: Mission drag racer scores 1st career win, sets world record, makes history in 2020

Justin Bond, founder and owner of JBS Equipment Mission, has break-out year

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

Most Read