COVID-19-stricken B.C. school ‘should have been closed a week ago,’ say parents

Parents at a Surrey school grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak say they’re frustrated it took officials so long to close the facility down.

At least seven cases, including at least one teacher, have been identified at Cambridge Elementary.

On Saturday night Fraser Health announced the school would close for two weeks, and on Sunday officials said about 850 staff and students would be asked to self isolate.

Rani Sanghera, president of the school’s parent advisory committee doesn’t understand why it took officials days to act.

“Parents have been emailing the district, they’ve been emailing the ministry since Nov. 9 when they first found out about the exposure to the music teacher,” she said.

“They felt very unheard, and they think the school should have been closed a week ago.”

The music teacher, Darlene Lourenco, remained in intensive care Sunday, though a colleague said her condition had stabilized.

Sanghera said Lourenco was teaching scores of children across multiple grades and learning cohorts, a situation unfair to both her and to the students.

“Ms. Lourenco is a really loved teacher, she is amazing, and we feel really bad for her,” she said.

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“We feel like the system has failed her.”

Michelle Addison, whose son is in Grade 3 at the school, was exposed both to the music teacher and another COVID-positive classmate.

She said the speed of notification and the amount of detail coming from health officials about who was exposed was so lacking that parents turned to each other on Facebook to do their own contact tracing.

“It was a way to let other families know in the event that they already have a risk at home, an underlying condition,” she said.

“Parents were just so uncomfortable with how long its been taking that we just started doing a grassroots communication.”

Many parents opted to keep their kids home from school last week, as news of the outbreak spread, she added.

Cambridge is one of three schools that announced a two-week closure Saturday night.

The other two, Jarvis Elementary School in Delta and Al-Hidayah School in New Westminster, are both closing voluntarily due to staffing shortages as exposed teachers self-isolate.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said the situation was exactly what the union had predicted.

The province needs to act immediately to implement mandatory masks in schools, and cap class sizes at 15 in the Fraser Health region — home to nearly 70 per cent of all school exposures in the province.

“This is to prevent these kinds of situations from happening, and yet we weren’t listened to,” Mooring said.

“And here we are with more than 1,000 teachers and students and support staff having to isolate. And that’s going to impact thousands more people.”

Mooring said she expects more schools to close due to staffing crunches, as more teachers are exposed to the virus.

She said the union would also be pressing for more protection for teachers, such as plexiglass barriers, through the Labour Relations Board.

In an update Sunday night, Surrey School District superintendent Jordan Tinney expanded the school’s exposure notification to include anyone who was present between Nov. 2 and Nov. 13.

Fraser Health also advised all affected people to get tested, he added.

Tinney is expected to provide an update Sunday evening.

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