Surrey school district asks for patience and confidence in 2021 back-to-school plans

·2 min read
Students in Surrey, B.C., head back to class Sept. 8. Those in Grades 4 and up will have to wear masks while indoors. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Students in Surrey, B.C., head back to class Sept. 8. Those in Grades 4 and up will have to wear masks while indoors. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Surrey's superintendent of schools is asking parents to be confident and patient as kids head back to school this fall.

Last week, the province announced a mask mandate for school staff and students in Grade 4 and up, but some people believe that all children should be wearing masks in schools.

On Saturday, protesters gathered in Surrey, calling for a more robust mask mandate in schools and other safety measures, including ventilation and school capacity limits.

Protesters at the rally included doctors and parents, who addressed Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside directly, chanting "Kids Before COVID."

Janella Hamilton/CBC
Janella Hamilton/CBC

Superintendent Jordan Tinney said students and their advocates should be confident in the plans set out by public health.

He also asked for patience, as schools and health officials continue to make adjustments based on transmission in the broader community.

"Let's look at this as a transition rather than flipping a switch," he told The Early Edition guest host Michelle Eliot.

"We need to let the pressure on vaccines run its course, and we need to see what happens with the case numbers."

The Surrey School District reported more school exposures than any other school district in B.C. in March. Tinney said the district issued thousands of exposure notices last year.

But when staff started getting vaccinated in Surrey schools in the spring, Tinney said COVID-19 case numbers "literally fell off a cliff."

He said, "the vaccines were a huge game changer for us."

Tinney said many young children who weren't mandated to wear masks wore them anyway last year.

As for ventilation, Tinney said many schools are upgrading HVAC systems and bringing in new filters. The school district is monitoring which schools require maintenance on their air filtration systems.

Though hybrid online learning models won't be allowed this year, Tinney said students can opt to do distributed learning from home if parents don't want their children in the classroom.

However Tinney said it's important for kids to get back into classrooms and participating in extracurricular activities again.

"I'm really excited about getting students back to school in what will largely look a lot more normal in terms of the movement of students in the building and just getting back to some regular routines," he said.

"My hope is that those things find their own new rhythm within the guidelines, where students can be with friends, parents and volunteers can come into buildings. Of course, my concerns would be if we're still in a pandemic [and] delta's still out there, I hope that we've got all the right checks and balances in place so we don't see case numbers rise in schools dramatically."

LISTEN | Jordan Tinney on back-to-school plans

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