After incredible parent pressure and three School Boards undertaking their fiduciary duty to protect children; the PHO, in a joint press conference with the Minister of Education, instituted a K-12 mask mandate. However, there is much more urgent work to do.
Let’s first examine comments by the press conference participants. The PHO announced the mask mandate. Saying it was based on current data and that she was ‘not the sole decision maker’ was clearly a dodge from taking responsibility for not having made this decision much earlier. The real reason is that School Boards were finally fulfilling their role and moving ahead with their own mask mandates. The Minister and PHO saw their power being usurped and only then did what should have been done in September. The standard propaganda statements were made. For example, the PHO and Minister said the schools simply reflected the community spread. How does this explain the high number of Covid cases in Capilano Elementary School in North Vancouver, a community with a very high double vax rate and low community spread. How long are we going to accept such falsehoods and justifications for poor decision making?
The Minister expressed many platitudes including thanking the School Boards for all their hard work. What she was really doing was thanking Boards for their compliance. For two years Boards have been silent leaving teachers and other school employees to fend for themselves in dangerous workplaces. It took until now for three Boards to finally exercise the leadership for which they were elected. Where were the other Boards, even last week, when the evidence was so clear that elementary schools should have had the protection offered by masks.
The Minister also boasted that they had spent 87.5 million dollars on ventilation in schools. This is a drop in the bucket! A proper ventilation refit of an elementary school twenty years ago cost $775,000. I know; the Government funded just such a project in Gleneagles Elementary when the new ferry terminal was built in Horseshoe Bay. Think of that in today’s dollars and you know $87.5 million dollars does not begin to deal with the problem. Moreover, the Minister and PHO spoke of the layers of protection. This is just more false propaganda. Clearly neither has been into a school recently to see the congestion between classes, the total lack of social distancing, and the non-compliance with mask wearing. They also never mention that they have reduced a child’s option to choose remote learning and are currently developing a policy that will result in thousands of students being denied the programs in which they are currently enrolled.
And let’s not forget the statement from our PHO that suggested the flu was more dangerous than Covid. This is the person guiding us through the worst pandemic in one hundred years and in whose hands we have put the safety of our children. It certainly gives me pause and raises my concern for the safety of my grandchildren.
With this background we need to look at the work that has been left undone. For me the heroes of this pandemic have been the Port Moody principal who at the beginning of the pandemic tried to implement a mask mandate in his school and was threatened with discipline if he did not back down. He was right and he was two years ahead of last week’s three School Boards and he deserves a medal. So, too, do the two mothers who have maintained the BC Covid tracker data base which has provided the only reliable exposure information to parents. They have undertaken an enormous task which both the Government and the PHO should have been doing. They are the heroes of the pandemic in BC. But now we need more heroes. We need the teachers’ employer to step up and mandate vaccines for all school board employees. In the press conference the PHO explained that she was only responsible for health facility employees, but she opened the door for School Boards to do so when she spoke of other employers mandating vaccines for their employees. School Boards need to step up and institute a vaccine mandate for all employees. At the same time they should add the Covid vaccine (including the child vaccine currently under development) to the list if vaccines required of all students to be eligible to attend schools within the district
The Government also needs to step up. They need to provide adequate resources for the School Districts to undertake ventilation upgrades that will make a difference in schools. To not do so leaves children and school employees at real risk as the cold weather sets in and schools become untenable places in which to to expect learning to take place. The Government also needs to build a remote learning policy that enables a child to choose this option within the district of his/her choice. Some students are immunocompromised and must have such an option while for others (contrary to the Minister’s and PHO’s propaganda that in school learning is essential for every child) schools are just not a viable place for them to learn.
Finally, Superintendents need to step up and serve the children and parents by taking on the responsibility for keeping them informed, on a daily basis, of exposures and Covid issues within their buildings. Parents have the right to be informed so they can make the best decisions regarding school attendance for the well being of their children and themselves. The current flow of information from the PHO has been proven to be incomplete and untimely and it is time for district leadership to serve their community with accurate and timely information.
For too long Boards and School District leaders have taken a back seat to the PHO. Finally, the VSB stepped up and we have the mask mandate we should have had in September. There is more work to do, it needs to be done NOW and it is time for the Boards, the Government, and the Superintendents to do that work!
Doug Player, October 3, 2021.