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CTV Vancouver Island – 21 September 2021
CHEK News – 20 September 2021

Contacting Your School Board
Re: Safe Schools

Template Available – https://docs.google.com/document/d/13YW9n64xuKHWUleA4k3hel4B51OS4Tn8uNN1gApPojU/edit

Thanks for your interest in speaking up to your local School Board, the Ministry of Education, and your local school advocacy groups! 

Please copy and paste the letter below. Send it to your local and provincial officials. Share it through social media and friends. Add and edit your letter as you wish. Advocacy is always more effective when it is personal. 🙂 

While this school year is very different, we are still heading into a year where there are some risks to our children’s health. Ventilation upgrades have been made in some schools, but not all. While vaccination has become the cornerstone of BC’s Covid-19 mitigation strategy, children under 12 can not yet be vaccinated. Additionally, those who have been vaccinated can still transmit Covid-19. Our schools need to protect those who have not yet been vaccinated by improving ventilation to top standards, mandating masks, and providing quality remote learning options that keep the children connected to their school community. 

As well, there are families who have greater health risks and are put in the position of having to keep their children home and separated from their community, their teachers, and their friends. All schools should have the funding to upgrade ventilation to standards needed for Covid-19, and insist on masking as a layer of protection for those who are unvaccinated. 

*Please note: the fifth paragraph is specific to Vancouver. Feel free to edit it to reflect your area. 

The last page of this is a list of possible contacts you can send your letter to.

Thanks for your time!

Kyenta Martins

Safe Schools Coalition

Letter:

<To Premier Horgan, Minister Whiteside, Minister Dix, Dr Henry, BCCPAC, Vancouver DPAC…>

<Draft a first paragraph to introduce yourself. Perhaps include what you did last year for schooling for your child or children, and what you were hoping to do this year. Anything to personalize the letter so they know there is a person and a family behind this letter.>

The 2020-21 school year was a different year, where we were all trying to figure out how to mitigate risk, keep our children engaged, while also trying to stay healthy. We have learned a lot during the last year, including that Covid-19 is spread primarily through aerosol and droplet transmission (Source: How it Spreads, BCCDC). Following the guidelines from the Public Health Authority of Canada (PHAC), classrooms would meet the qualifications as a setting with a higher risk of transmission (Source: COVID-19: Main modes of transmission – Canada.ca, PHAC). 

During the past year, there have been many studies into the transmission of Covid-19 and methods to mitigate transmission. It was found by the CDC in a study involving K-5 Georgia public schools that improving school ventilation through using HEPA filters lowered Covid-19 incidence by 48% (Source: Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 …, CDC).

I recognize that children and adults are asked to not attend school when they are sick, however if a person is experiencing mild symptoms, or is asymptomatic, they may not realize they are contagious. It has been shown in multiple studies, including this one from CDC’s Estimated Disease Burden for Covid-19 “estimated cumulative rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 symptomatic illness in children ages 5-17 years were comparable to infection and symptomatic illness rates in adults ages 18-49 and higher than rates in adults ages 50 and older”. Additionally, people will go to school thinking they are healthy or that it is just a cold. Having multiple layers of protection (proper ventilation and masking) helps keep everyone safer and will help Covid-19 lessen. 

Currently, VSB has upgraded to use Merv 13 filtration in schools where systems have been able to be upgraded. From what we have been told, this does not include all schools. While these upgrades are welcome, the additional method used is to keep windows and doors open. While opening windows and doors does lower Covid-19 incidence by 35% (Source: Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 …, CDC), the side effects of this strategy are cold classrooms during a significant part of the year. There is a short period of time in the fall and spring where this works well. Otherwise, it leads to staff and children wearing warm coats, sweaters, and mittens all day long. 

All school classrooms should be provided the best ventilation available, as our children should be in an environment that puts their health at top priority. Funding our schools should not be political; this is providing for the very basics for a large demographic of our population. Once appropriate filters are installed, monitoring needs to be put in place to ensure the air quality in classrooms is optimal for keeping students and staff healthy. CO2 monitoring is a good guide to measure the build up of shared air. 

One last point regarding ventilation needs that is particularly relevant during these summer months: proper ventilation is even more important now with wildfire smoke becoming a significant annual event. Our schools cannot open doors and windows during those days to provide fresh air, which will cause a build up of exhaled aerosols that may contain the virus. A highly functional ventilation system that removes particles from the air (both smoke and virus) will allow teachers and students to attend school in a healthy environment. 

At this time, there is no evidence that a building’s ventilation system, in good operating condition, would contribute to the spread of the virus. Good indoor air ventilation alone cannot protect people from exposure to COVID-19; however, it may reduce risk when used in addition to other preventive measures.

Source: Provincial COVID-19 Health Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings 

In tandem with ventilation, all children should be asked to wear masks. Children are infected with Covid-19 at the same, or higher rate, than adults. (Source: Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs – Updated) As we know that children can transmit Covid-19 to each other and to staff and teachers, and that those who are vaccinated can catch and transmit COvid-19, masking is an important part of a community strategy to protect those who can not be vaccinated (Source: Research Finds Masks Can Prevent COVID-19 Transmission in Schools). 

I recognize this has become a politically charged issue, and teachers cannot be put on the front lines to enforce it. However, if there is no support from the Ministry or District School Boards communicating the ask to wear masks, you are leaving the teachers without the supports to create a safe community within their classrooms. Our education system teaches respect for others, science, and personal responsibility. Requiring mask wearing supports that. If families are not able to wear masks, they are able to make use of the online learning option (VLN) available for them. It should not be the children who are medically vulnerable who are forced to stay home to stay safe. Our education system and our society should be working to support our most vulnerable and actively include them in our society, rather than putting them in a position where they must learn separately to stay safe. And if students are must learn from home or virtually during the pandemic, their places in their school should be held for them.

In other cultures, the responsibility to wear a mask has become a part of their social responsibility to take care of themselves and others. During a pandemic that is spread through aerosols that are expelled through talking, yelling, singing, etc, it is common sense to promote the wearing of masks. Children do not sit at a desk all day – they move and yell and talk and sing. These are all activities that could be much less risky if a mask mandate was in place. 

In the Minister of Education’s mandate letter, Premier Horgan stated “Ensure quality public education continues to be delivered during and after the COVID-19 pandemic through implementation of appropriate guidelines to ensure safety.” (Source: Mandate Letter). While I understand that we didn’t know as much in September 2020 as we do now, with the current knowledge of the transmission of Covid-19, it is imperative and it is in your mandate to “ensure safety” of our children and our school staff.  To ensure safety, masking needs to be used by everyone who is able, and ventilation needs to be at a level that will clean the air of aerosolized virus. 

Education during a pandemic is difficult, however health during a pandemic is a priority. Children cannot learn if their health is not a priority. As the global science community studies and learns more about Covid-19, we are finding more and more long term negative effects. A study from Norway, recently published in Nature Medicine found that “six months after the infection, more than 50 per cent of young adults aged 16-30 still had symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and trouble concentrating” (Source: Long COVID in a prospective cohort of home-isolated patients) . Not putting into place the precautions to mitigate infection in schools is exactly the opposite of “ensuring safety”. 

I await the plans for the upcoming school year, and expect our government to learn from other countries in the world to do the best for the children of BC by providing a safe environment for our children to learn. 

Thank you for your time and attention. 

<sign name>

Contacts to address your letter to:

John Horgan 

(Premier)

john.horgan@bcndp.ca

john.horgan.MLA@leg.bc.ca

Premier@gov.bc.ca

Jennifer Whiteside 

(Education Minister)

jennifer.whiteside@bcndp.ca

jennifer.whiteside.MLA@leg.bc.ca

educ.minister@gov.bc.ca

Adrian Dix 

(Health Minister)

adrian.dix@bcndp.ca

adrian.dix.MLA@leg.bc.ca

HLTH.Minister@gov.bc.ca

Dr. Bonnie Henry 

(PHO)

Bonnie.Henry@gov.bc.ca

Sonia Furstenau 

(Leader BC Greens)

sonia.furstenau.MLA@leg.bc.ca

sonia.furstenau@bcgreens.ca

Shirley Bond 

(Leader BC Liberals)

shirley.bond.MLA@leg.bc.ca

shirley.bond@bcliberals.com

Jackie Tegart 

(Official Opposition Critic – Education)

jackie.tegart.MLA@leg.bc.ca

jackie.tegart@bcliberals.com

To find your local MLA: https://www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/members

*It is also worth calling your MLA after you have sent your letter. Their job is to act on your behalf, but it can be very easy to ignore a single letter. However, following that letter up with a phone call can make a big difference. 

BCCPAC: info@bccpac.bc.ca

Gord Lau

(VanDPAC Chair)

chair@vancouverdpac.org

Vik Khana

(VanDPAC Vice Chair)

vicechair@vancouverdpac.org

Karen Tsang

(VanDPAC Secretary)

secretary@vancouverdpac.org

VSB contacts: 

Suzanne Hoffman

(Superintendent until September 2021)

shoffman@vsb.bc.ca

David Nelson

(Deputy Superintendent)

dnelson@vsb.bc.ca

Robert Schindel

(Associate Superintendent)

rschindel@vsb.bc.ca

Carmen Cho

(Trustee Point Grey & Tupper Families of Schools, VSB Chair)

carmen.cho@vsb.bc.ca

Estrellita Gonzalez

(Trustee David Thompson, Prince of Wales & Van Tech Families of Schools, VSB Vice Chair)

estrellita.gonzalez@vsb.bc.ca

Janet Fraser 

(Trustee John Oliver & Eric Hamber Families of Schools)

janet.fraser@vsb.bc.ca

Jennifer Reddy

(Trustee Templeton & University Hill Families of Schools)

jennifer.reddy@vsb.bc.ca

Fraser Ballantyne

(Trustee (no family of schools listed))

fraser.ballantyne@vsb.bc.ca

Lois Chan-Pedley

(Trustee Churchill and Gladstone Families of Schools)

lois.chan-pedley@vsb.bc.ca

Oliver Hanson

(Trustee Killarney & Lord Byng Families of Schools)

oliver.hanson@vsb.bc.ca

Barbara Parrott

(Trustee Britannia, King George & Kitsilano Families of Schools; VASS)

barbara.parrott@vsb.bc.ca

Allan Wong

(Trustee Magee & Windermere Families of Schools)

allan.wong@vsb.bc.ca

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