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  • Tracy Sherlock

Parents petition government to make September return to in-person school optional

More than 4,400 people have signed a petition started by Edmond Luk asking the B.C. government to make in-person instruction optional this September.

Last week, the B.C. government announced plans for in-person instruction to be the norm for all students in September, while those who do not feel comfortable returning would have the option of online distributed learning programs or homeschooling.

“The government is pressuring our kids to go back to school even though it is still unsafe as covid-19 cases are increasing consistently on a daily basis, and yet they just keep repeating that ‘this is a robust plan,’ in hope for our buy-in,” the petition states.

The petition criticizes the B.C. plan for not requiring masks in schools and for not allowing for social distancing in classrooms.

“Keeping in mind that the current plan for September is to have learning groups sized 60 to 120 (grades dependent), this plan is contrary to the recommendation of ‘fewer faces, bigger spaces,’” the petition says.

The petition cites an outbreak of covid-19 at a sleepaway camp in Georgia and a recent study out of South Korea that found children under 10 years old to be less likely to spread the virus, but those between 10 and 19 years of age were even more likely than other ages to spread the virus.

“It is irresponsible to require students to return to class at full capacity in September 2020, despite acknowledging that social distancing is not possible,” the petition says, noting that other jurisdictions are requiring masks and have installed plexiglass barriers to enforce physical distancing.

“This decision is unsafe and will put many people’s lives at risk, especially high risk individuals in students' households. To make it mandatory is a suppression of parents’ rights to keep their own kids safe,” the petition says.

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry supports the plan to reopen and said the framework of the plan will ensure staff, teachers and students are safe. Schools have had outbreaks of other diseases in the past, such as measles or the flu, but they’ve been able to handle it.

"We have always had risks in our schools. There is no such thing as no risk," Dr. Henry said.

The plan to open schools in person is a balancing act between preventing covid-19 outbreaks and preventing the harms that affect children when schools are closed, Dr. Henry said.

“We know that children who have fallen behind may never make up both the economic and the educational impacts of that for them and for their families and their communities can last for many years,” Dr. Henry said. “Schools are essential, not only to our economy, but our society and our community and this is the safest way that we can move forward.”

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation does not support the government plan, saying it is rushed and needs more work.

In particular, the BCTF says a change from a hybrid system where some of the secondary school learning is online, to a fully in-person secondary system, was made quickly and without consultation with the teachers.

Some larger secondary schools will continue with hybrid learning that was in place in June, but the government plan is for the rest of B.C.’s schools to be fully in person.

Last week, nearly half of B.C. parents surveyed said they didn’t know yet if they would send their children back to school, a Leger and Association for Canadian Studies poll found. Forty per cent said yes and 12 per cent said they will keep their children home. In June, about one-third of students attended when schools reopened part-time.

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