During Covid one elected political body has been missing in action. They are 56 of the 60 School Boards in the province. These elected officials had every opportunity to make schools safe for children, yet they abrogated this key responsibility. Instead of exercising the powers given to them by the electorate they deferred to the provincial government or PHO to the detriment of their own community. Even their spokesperson appeared to become a mouthpiece for the Government rather than a spokesperson for School Boards. The evidence in six areas of safety clearly shows that school employees, students and communities were poorly served by their School Board.
Masks: Early in the pandemic one principal implemented a mask mandate for his school. In one of the dumbest decisions of the pandemic, his Board forced him to rescind this requirement. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2021 that the Surrey Board, followed closely by the Vancouver Board, forced the hand of the PHO and a mask mandate was imposed from K to 12. During this time the spokesperson for the BC School Boards had acted as a mouthpiece for the Government claiming masks were not required and were too uncomfortable for young children. We will never know how many unnecessary infections occurred because of the inaction by School Boards. Even now School Boards should be providing every school employee with an N95 mask, yet they fail to do so!
Vaccines: Finally, Delta School District has implemented a vaccine mandate for all school staff. It is about time! They followed the only other District Revelstoke. Every district should have instituted a vaccine mandate from day one but our School Boards failed to step up even when the BCTF said they would support a mandate. Guess what---as I am writing this, the PHO has done her usual reactive move---a public order has been issued mandating vaccine disclosure for all school staff. Just like the mask mandate, it took a School Board to force the PHO’s hand. This announcement should be a vaccine mandate rather than just a disclosure, but this requires all School Boards to have the testicular fortitude of Delta and Revelstoke. Too bad the rest of the Boards don’t really want to protect their staff and students.
Ventilation: School Districts know which schools have archaic ventilation systems and there are a lot of them. The science tells us that ventilation is key to slowing the spread. Every School Board should have been putting appropriate air purifiers with HEPA filters in classrooms without adequate ventilation. Instead, some Boards even forced the removal of parent donated or teacher supplied portable units. This is a travesty, and all Boards should be held accountable for operating unsafe workplaces for teachers and students.
Testing: One of the best ways to manage the pandemic situation in schools is to ensure there is a sound plan for rapid testing on each site. Our School Boards totally ignored this approach and bowed to a PHO who warehoused over one hundred thousand tests provided by the Federal Government. Boards should have been ordering their own rapid tests just like other industries in BC did. It is evident that when a School Board takes a stance the PHO backs down. Rather than providing an appropriate workplace testing regime, our Boards chose to go silent and completely abandon their employees and students.
Programming: Until the pandemic, I had never seen school programming used to manipulate parents. When the pandemic struck most school districts moved to some form of online learning. Online learning has always been an option for students in a variety of school districts. However, School Boards now have closed any option to online learning believing it would cause attendance issues in schools that could lead to ‘functional” closure. To be clear, NO ONE is arguing for school closure. They are arguing for SAFE SCHOOLS. However, to manipulate attendance many School Boards have completely closed the option of online learning both full time and part time. This ignores the benefits a hybrid model could provide during these difficult times. School Boards should be trying to meet all student needs; instead, they have shut down a very viable and valuable option for many students. Again, School Boards have failed both the students and the parents.
Communication: Communication from schools and School Boards during the pandemic can only be described as disastrous. Parents count on communication from schools and Districts to know how best to protect their children. Early in the pandemic, the Surrey Superintendent was rightfully praised for his frequent and clear communication with the public but even he went silent as the pandemic progressed. No one was expecting anyone’s privacy to be breached but providing statistics such as positivity rates poses no such danger. This was the statistic that the mothers who are putting forth yeoman’s efforts through the BC Covid Tracker to keep the parents informed of school situations. When they asked the West Vancouver Superintendent for this information, they report receiving a “resounding no”! This is the Superintendent who boasts of doing the opposite in his blog entitled ‘A Culture of Yes’! And this is the problem. Through their approach to the pandemic, his Board and every other Board in the province have turned positive, trusting school cultures that were built up over years into negative, uncaring workplaces. They have turned cultures of yes into cultures of no! School Boards have destroyed any caring, learning cultures that existed in their districts.
There is time to salvage some of what has been lost. School boards could lead! They could provide N95 masks to all employees, they could implement a mask mandate as Delta and the West Vancouver municipality have, they could purchase HEPA filter equipped portable ventilation machines for classrooms, they could implement in a rapid testing plan for their district, they could offer an online learning or hybrid option to students as has been done in the past, and they could step up and support their community with more forthright and transparent communication. If this does not happen then the question must be asked: why continue with a one hundred year old model of governance when these Boards refuse to live up to a primary fiduciary duty to protect the children in their care?
It is time for School Boards to step up or go M.I.A. for good!
Doug Player January 17, 2022.