Prince George teachers seek mandatory masks, reduced class sizes

·2 min read

The Prince George District Teachers Association is calling on the provincial health officer to make changes to the way COVID-19 is dealt with in schools.

In a letter sent to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the PGDTA is urging her to make masks mandatory in all areas of schools and to cut by half the number of students in a classroom.

"The recent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Northern Health has led to delays in contact tracing,” said PGDTA vice-president Katherine Trepanier. “Last week, Northern Health issued an information bulletin stating that there is even a 'backlog of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but have not yet been contacted by public health.

"This has led to uncertainty, anxiety and mistrust. Teacher experience is that the 'layers of protection' being referred to by you and others are not sufficient to feel safe in our schools. We can, and should be, doing more."

In an interview, Trepanier said the measures should be taken because physical distancing is not possible in a classroom.

"There seems to be this idea that class are still the teacher standing at the front of the class delivering information and the students just all sitting properly in rows. That's just not what schools look like," Trepanier said.

"Learning is much more group oriented. It's more engaging. People are moving around. It's not what you think of when you think of a school in the '50s but that seems to be the perception and that's seem to be these so-called layers of protection are envisioning, is schools the way they were back in the '50s."

Trepanier said reducing class sizes could be achieved by shortening days or having students come on alternating days and then doing their schoolwork online.

"We want schools to stay open. We know how important it is for children, it is the best thing," Trepanier said. "But we're in a global pandemic. We have to make everybody's physical health a priority right now."

Trepanier cast doubt on the idea of extending the Christmas break.

"My worry is if you extend the break, there is not a guarantee that people will be any better behaved during the extended time," Trepanier said. "The problem always is when we come back to school - if people have traveled or if they have been in large gatherings, then we're bringing all that back to school and so I think the key is to have better protections in schools."

Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince George Citizen