When it comes to the pandemic, British Columbia is in a mess. Yesterday we had 566 new cases and we had 16 more deaths. We only tested 6,943 people and our positivity rates on a seven-day rolling average are all over 4 with the exception of Island health bringing BC’s positivity rate to a horrendous 6.3. The PHO did extend her current order until January 8th and yet left every community vulnerable because she refused to deal with schools.
The PHO justified her inaction with schools by saying she had “consulted the stakeholders” and the consequences of extending Christmas break are far too great! Seriously? Let us start with “consulted with stakeholders.” The BCTF has stated they were never consulted, in spite of the recent LRB ruling that they must be consulted. Why would you not consult with the actual frontline workers who are in the trenches every day and who are the mainstay of our schools? We are being lied to by the very person the Education Minister has asked us to trust.
What about the claim “the consequences of closing are far too great”? If schools closed his Friday and opened when her order expired, students would miss nine and one-half days of actual instruction. This suggests the consequences of missing a few days of school outweigh the potential of having a full month to break the exposures, outbreaks and transmissions caused by having schools open. This is a ludicrous claim. Why are our public schools open when every BC University is extending the Christmas break out of an abundance of caution and based upon some very sound knowledge.
That knowledge comes in the form of the most recent research. One recent study using data from 131 countries found that the virus spread surged by 24% when schools were opened. Yaneer Bar-Yam, who is a leading expert in the study of pandemic spread, describes schools as “hubs of transmission”. Dr. Zoe Hyde’s most recent study concludes by stating that schools have been a driver of the second wave in Europe, Canada and elsewhere. Why does our PHO ignore the latest scientific research on schools and yet our universities follow that research? By not following the latest science we are putting our educators, students and their families, and communities at unnecessary risk. This is insane!!
Considering the PHO’s unwillingness to apply the precautionary principle I see two possible solutions. The first is for our local leaders to step forward. Our elected Boards have the authority to close schools. Indeed, even Superintendents can close schools. If a district has a terrible snowfall that could endanger students travelling to school, then the Superintendent can make the call to close the schools. I did it many times. In this case children are being endangered just by being in school.
The School Board also has authority to set the local calendar so they could adjust the calendar to close now and add make-up minutes to the days in the Spring when the weather contributes less to the spread. In short with the government and PHO’s current inaction, any Board could step in and act responsibly to slow the spread and protect their community. It is long overdue for a Board and/or Superintendent to have some testicular fortitude and step up to the plate.
The second solution is for teachers to simply protect themselves. If I were teaching now, I would phone in sick on the fourteenth of December. Even if you are not physically ill, you can be suffering mentally (as I am sure many of you are) from the stress of what the system is doing to you. I had this message sent to me this morning:
"Doug Player: let me tell you something. I come from generations of teachers. I was literally born to be one and wanted to be, knew I would be, since the age of 5. If I knew then what I know now about the way the public, the government, school boards and administration treat teachers, I would have chosen a different career. Its disheartening, discouraging, demoralizing and hurtful."
This demonstrates the feeling in the system which is one of incredible stress from the sense of being abandoned. You have been left alone without the proper protections afforded every other worker, without any visible support from your local Board or Superintendent and in absolute fear that you may be taking a deadly virus home as a Christmas gift to your family. You are entitled to sick days and have every right to use them. If enough teachers did this, the system could not operate and would have to close early. You would have given your community the protection the PHO is unwilling to provide.
I am appalled by the current actions of a PHO who lies about consulting stakeholders, who is supported by a Minister who cannot manage spending in his own health office and who is in turn supported by a Premier who only shows up if there might be some good vaccine news to spread. I believe every member of the school community has been abandoned by their local elected Trustees and a newly appointed Education Minister. We are all being told lies, we are not being given the true data on transmission (because it is not even collected) and we are all being endangered by the unwillingness to simply extend the Christmas break.
Therefore, my advice to parents, is to take your own action to protect your children. As many have indicated they are already planning to do, keep your child out of school from December 14th until January 8th when the PHO’s orders expire. Over six hundred schools have already sent letters home indicating schools are not safe places and by withdrawing your child you will be giving your family a better chance of having a heathy Christmas.
I wish each of you a healthy and safe Christmas.
Doug Player December 9, 2020.