Ainslee and Elton De Genova head back for the first day of school at Eric Langton elementary on Sept. 10, 2020. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Ainslee and Elton De Genova head back for the first day of school at Eric Langton elementary on Sept. 10, 2020. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Maple Ridge teachers call for vaccinations

Union reps want increased safety measures in schools

Educators should be prioritized to get COVID-19 vaccinations, says the president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.

Trevor Takasaki is among the voices in the union leadership calling for more protection for teachers, and others in the school system who are working on the front lines with groups of children.

“The people in education who interct with hundreds of people should be put on the priority list – high on the priority list,” he said.

He added the government’s rules keep teachers from insisting that elementary school students wear masks. Nor can they request that secondary school students who are within their cohorts wear a mask.

“We can’t keep ourselves safe,” he said. “You can’t demand that kids wear masks.”

They have to deal with anti-masker parents who come into the schools.

Anecdotally, they hear from students that their families held gatherings over the holidays.

The union is aware of two instances where parents got their children tested for COVID-19 before the holidays as a precaution, and found that even though the kids had no symptoms, they tested positive.

He said the Fraser Health reporting system allows that there have been “exposure events” at Maple Ridge schools, but these could be termed outbreaks, with multiple infected people and more exposed.

“Teachers’ anxiety is peaked. It can’t get much higher.”

READ ALSO: B.C. shifts reporting to get COVID-19 information out faster

Takasaki said educators were hoping the BC government would shut down schools for an extra two weeks in the new year in an effort to flatten the curve. Students in southern Ontario are not going to classes in person until Jan. 25, the government announced on Thursday.

“There is a new variant that is more transmissable,” Takasaki pointed out. “The landscape has changed.”

School board chairperson Korleen Carreras said the B.C. government has made educators a priority, and they are in the second grouping of people to be vaccinated.

The 12 BCTF local presidents who represent teachers working in the Fraser Helath region have released a statement calling on Fraser Health to improve health and safety standards in schools.

They have asked government to:

• Continue making improvements to ensure there is timely contact tracing by the Fraser Health Authority. Some exposure notices arrive near the end of the two-week monitoring period, too late to help anyone.

• Reduce density in schools and classrooms to enable physical distancing. Desks are often less than a metre apart and many facilities have poor ventilation.

• Make masks mandatory use in all indoor spaces because physical distancing is not possible in most schools.

• Ensure educators and school staff are appropriately prioritized to receive vaccinations as soon as possible.

• Provide a clear definition and rationale for the threshold to declare an outbreak in a school.

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