As schools break for Christmas let us consider what we have learned about how we are dealing with the pandemic in BC.
First, we are in terrible shape and have some of the worst results in our country. Today we had 673 cases and 21 deaths. The case number is likely low because we are doing some of the lowest testing in the country. In schools there are no reliable figures because the PHO stopped collecting critical statistics in November. Suddenly, the North is in particularly poor shape with 47 cases and the ICU in Prince George filling rapidly.
Second, we have done little to protect our school employees. There is no provincial funding to provide for social distancing. And there is almost no local creativity applied to build wiser scheduling that allows social distancing. No Plexiglas barriers have been supplied to teachers. The PHO has refused to order a mask mandate for schools even though she did so for all other indoor public places. These safety measures are recommended by Worksafe BC yet remain ignored by the PHO.
Third, at the last minute of planning the PHO mandated a cohort system that essentially forced schools to adopt a quarter system that is an abysmal system for knowledge absorption and retention. Moreover, the system falls apart in most schools for elective courses and at quarter changeover. The Prince George Teacher’s Association’s recent letter to the PHO confirms that the cohort system is "deeply flawed"!
Fourth, many families’ Christmases have been ruined by the unwillingness to extend the Christmas break. Even today classes are being required to self-isolate which puts all those students alone in their room over Christmas. Even worse keeping schools open continues to contribute to the spread, a fact recognized by experts around the world but denied by our PHO.
Fifth, we have learned that our School Boards are powerless and unwilling to speak up to support their teachers and other school employees. Similarly, the Superintendents have not shown any willingness to challenge the PHO no matter how badly things get in their district. As a result, their teachers are appealing, likely in vain, directly to the PHO and Government.
Sixth, communication is abysmal, and we are even lied to by our health officials. They specifically state that they have consulted with the key stakeholders yet the BCTF tells us they were never consulted. We even have teachers arriving at school to find out their class is not there because the students have been told to self-isolate. However, the teacher was not even notified!
Seventh, we have learned that contact tracing is so far behind that letters often arrive after the infectious period has past making them useless. The letters are also purposely vague and may refer to more than one exposure while not specifically stating such.
Education is all about learning and our schools teach their students to learn from the past in order to improve the future. I am appalled at the current approach to our teachers and our schools from both the PHO and the Government. I believe that we have learned enough to know that the following changes need to be implemented after the Christmas break.
My Christmas wishes are for the following:
a) That our statistics will improve giving our frontline workers much needed relief. To enable this to happen we need to extend Christmas break until January 11th. This will ensure that we have allowed a fourteen-day incubation period after before sending children back to school. For the Minister of Education to say the school calendar is written in stone indicates she has not a clue about the flexibility needed within all organizations. I happen to be the first guy that added a week to Spring Break because it created a better learning situation for both students and teachers. Nothing is set in stone! Clearly, we had in-school transmission in Upper Lynn School this week demonstrating schools DO contribute to the spread. Adding a week to the break will slow the spread.
b) That the PHO will order a mask mandate for all school children, except Kindergarten, at all times in school. We already ruined many kids’ holidays that could have been prevented with a mask mandate. Such a mandate is long overdue and is practiced in those areas that have the best record of beating the virus.
c) That the PHO will listen to the practicing professionals who know the cohort system is not working. She has proven to be incredibly deaf when teachers share their knowledge and the Prince George Teachers are expressing their frustration with this approach. Teachers know what works and they know it is not the cohort system. God gave each of us two ears and one mouth for a reason! The PHO needs to listen more to the professionals in the system and act upon their recommendations.
d) That the government and PHO will restructure their communication methodologies so that everyone is better informed in a timely manner. Schools seemed to be able to better communicate in a timely manner under the old school telephone tree system. With today’s technology, surely we can inform people of exposures before it is too late; surely we can inform teachers that their class is ordered to self-isolate and surely we can stop the actual lying that has occurred more than once. This reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s line in the Movie A Few Good Men when he said: "you can’t handle the truth!" We not only can handle the truth but also can make things better if we know the truth and are kept better informed. Please employ a better communication plan!
e) That there will be a full review of the role of School Boards in the system. The pandemic has demonstrated that the one hundred year old practice of having School Boards overseeing the system is an anachronism. Over ten years ago I wrote about removing School Boards and turning the responsibility over to the municipality. School Boards have already disappeared in other provinces and in some of the most successful systems around the world. When the virus is in abeyance it is time to undertake a thorough review of the governance model within our school system.
I sincerely hope that these wishes will be granted because each one has the potential to reduce the spread, to make schools safe for children, employees, and our communities, and to improve the shattered morale in the system. Perhaps, as a certified Christmas nut, my belief in Santa Claus is misplaced. However, Santa did bring me that second hand CCM bike so I am hoping he is still listening.
Doug Player, December 17, 2020.