School District 83 announced, due to a staffing shortage, a two-day functional closure of Armstrong Elementary on Jan. 14 and 17 was being extended to Jan. 21. (File photo )

Concern grows over school closures as COVID-19 exposures increase in Okanagan

Several schools have had to close from one to several days due to a lack of staff

In the week that most students returned to in-person learning (Jan. 10-14) three B.C., public schools have declared functional closures due to staff shortages as a result of COVID-19 exposures.

Armstrong Elementary in the North Okanagan, Heritage Park Middle School in Mission, and Hazelton Secondary in northwestern B.C.

“There are a lot of schools that are close to the line,” says Terri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). “Close to the point where they have enough people away that they may not be able to run the school.”

Mooring adds so far school districts are managing functional closures and the lead-up to potential closures.

“It varies from district to district. Of course, the teacher shortage really impacts functional closures, especially in the north of the province where we see an acute issue around the shortage of teachers.”

The health and safety of students, teachers, and staff are paramount to the BCTF.

“Teachers are really concerned,” says Mooring. “There are still some really good ways to fix that, which could help everyone with their peace of mind. We are in a pandemic. The Omicron variant spreads very quickly and easily. We’ve seen already since school went back, functional closures and we don’t want to see any more.”

SD#23 COVID-19 exposures since the return to classes (BC School COVID Tracker)

Mooring adds the federation is starting to see some school districts step-up and offer N95 masks to teachers and other education workers, and hopes all districts will follow suit.

“We’d also like to see teachers prioritized for booster shots. We’re hearing from our members that some are getting booster shots, others are having a tough booking them. Access continues to be an issue, especially amongst children. Vaccination rates for five to 11-year-olds are very low. In the Interior, the vaccination rates for both five to 11-year olds and 12 to 17-year olds are well below the provincial average.”

The BCTF is hoping the province will target a campaign to families about the importance of getting vaccinated and mask-wearing. They are also working with the province around ventilation systems in schools.

“We are making some slow progress there,” says Mooring. “However, we are expecting some districts to be able to buy HEPA filters where necessary, especially in those schools where there isn’t mechanical ventilation already.”

Mooring says rapid testing is also something the BCTF would like to see the province take the lead on.

“We’ve been told education workers will have rapid tests made available to them, and that’s great. We’d like to see families be able to receive rapid testing as well. There is a lot of confusion around when a child should go to school when a child should not go to school and the rapid testing will help with that.”

Read More: Two-day ‘functional closure’ announced for North Okanagan school after teachers refuse work

Read More: B.C. to deploy rapid COVID-19 tests for school staff when they arrive


@GaryBarnes109
gary.barnes@kelownacapnews.com

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