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2nd school outbreak prompts Surrey parents to call for mandatory masks in classrooms

·2 min read

The Surrey District Parents Advisory Council is urging B.C. health officials to mandate masks in classrooms after a second school outbreak in their city.

Newton Elementary School in Surrey closed for two weeks on Friday because of an outbreak of at least 16 cases of COVID-19. Earlier this month, an outbreak was also declared at Cambridge elementary in Surrey.

"I think most parents do want masks to be made mandatory," said Rani Senghera, spokesperson for the Surrey District Parents Advisory Council.

Senghera says parents across the district were nervous even before the Newton outbreak was declared.

The Fraser Health region, which includes Surrey, has been the epicentre of B.C.'s second wave of COVID-19. Of the 911 new cases confirmed across the province on Friday, 649 or 71 per cent were in Fraser Health.

"Most parents think that Fraser Health is not on top of it," Senghera said.

Schools not a major source of transmission: Health officials

The parents Senghera has spoken with feel like information about possible exposures is taking too long to reach them, and they're also confused about who needs to self-isolate, she said.

Last week, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made wearing a face mask mandatory in virtually all indoor public spaces, but not schools.

While not compulsory in classrooms, masks are expected to be worn by students in high traffic areas like hallways and on buses.

On Friday, Henry made it clear she will not be mandating masks in schools. She has repeatedly said schools have not been a major source of virus transmission.

Making schools 'safer for everyone'

Despite that declaration, the B.C. teachers' union appealed directly to parents earlier this week to "support a culture of mask wearing."

The BCTF has been asking for a stronger school mask mandate from the province since August, saying it was unacceptable to treat schools differently from other workplaces.

The Surrey Teachers Association has echoed that statement. Like the BCTF, it also wants reduced class sizes to ensure physical distancing in classrooms.

"The two biggest changes that we're calling for are designed to make schools safer for everyone," said Matt Westphal, president of the association.

'They expected more'

Meanwhile, both Westphal and Senghera say parents at Cambridge elementary, which is scheduled to reopen Monday, are feeling nervous about sending their children back to school.

Parents and teachers say not enough changes have been implemented to ensure protection from another outbreak.

Senghera says the only noticeable change is a staggered recess and lunch time.

"Many parents are very anxious about sending their kids back to school on Monday," she said. "Parents are frustrated. They expected more."