Teachers and support staff at École Woodward Hill Elementary marched in solidarity outside the South Newton school on Tuesday morning (Feb. 23), in a call for better safety standards after cases of the UK variant of COVID-19 showed up there and at other schools in Surrey and Delta over the past week.
“It was a walk-in, not a walk-out,” said Matt Westphal, president of Surrey Teachers Association. “The teachers and the support staff, late yesterday they decided they wanted to do some sort of a demonstration, a solidarity march, have everyone wear red, ‘Red for B.C. Ed,’ to show everyone that we’re in this together and we’re committed to safety and really, to send a message to the Minister of Education and the public health office that we need better safety standards in Surrey schools with the variants.”
Solidarity March by @SurreyTeachers and @CUPE728 staff before school at École Woodward Hill Elementary to demand better health and safety standards, now that COVID-19 variants are in our schools @bctf #bced #bcpoli #RedForBCED pic.twitter.com/GFwctOhS13
— Matt Westphal (@vauvent) February 23, 2021
On Monday (Feb. 22), Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside and deputy health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson rejected BC Teachers Federation calls for school districts to be able to adopt their own safety plans to respond to spikes of exposure.
Whiteside acknowledged that information released Saturday and Sunday of exposures to the B.1.1.7 variant in seven schools in Surrey and Delta was “not the news parents and staff wanted to receive over the weekend.”
But she said if changes need to be made, they will be better indicated by contact tracing and testing processes already in place across the province. “We need to let the processes unfold to see how this happened,” Whiteside said.
Surrey Teachers Association says having cases of variants in schools needs to be “a game-changer,” and greater protections are needed to keep schools operating.
Westphal says he hopes B.C.’s health and education authorities take notice of the “walk-in” march at Woodward Hill.
“The parents seemed very supportive, honking horns and wearing red themselves, and part of this is the frustration resulting from yesterday’s press conference,” said Westphal, who doesn’t rule out similar marches taking place at other local schools.
“We’re not telling our members to do them, and I think it will depend on how the situation unfolds this week and how we go forward three weeks until spring break,” Westphal said. “Everyone in the system is trying to get to that break, spring break, but then there’s the whole worry about, ‘Well, what are people going to do during the break?’ If people follow the rules, that might help, but if they’re socializing and travelling, then that could make things worse.”
On Saturday (Feb. 20), Surrey school district issued notices to three schools where exposures occurred in late January and early February: at A.H.P. Matthew Elementary, Tamanawis Secondary and École Woodward Hill Elementary.
At Ecole Woodward Hill, 6082 142 St., two classes and more than 20 individuals were directed to stay home and self-isolate. “These individuals are also being advised to get tested. They will be able to return to school following a negative test,” reads a statement issued by Superintendent Jordan Tinney.
with file from Alex Browne