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Teachers raising red flags over COVID-19 notification process in schools: BCTF

Survey says 71 per cent of teachers reported not receiving adequate information
Middle School Student COVID masks
Middle school age children in masks.

The B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) is raising red flags regarding inconsistencies in the province’s COVID-19 notification policies in the K-12 education system.

BCTF says it has identified significant inconsistencies in defining and declaring COVID-19, a lack of timeliness of contract tracing and notification, and shifting policies for exposure notification and contract tracing.

The findings come from a recent survey of BCTF members where 71 per cent reported that they are not receiving adequate information about COVID-19 exposures and cases in their school district.

“It’s unacceptable that, over a year-and-a-half into this pandemic, there is still no province-wide consistency in how exposures and clusters in schools are defined and reported,” said BCTF President Teri Mooring, in a statement.

“Parents and teachers look to their school district and local health authority for information about what’s happening in their schools, and it has become very clear that the information provided and the communication to school communities is not painting an accurate picture. Trust in the system has been broken.”

BCTF says the lack of timeliness of contract tracing and notification is a problem especially in the Northern health region.

Some BCTF members are reporting that they find out about exposures in their school or classroom from community sources rather than being formally notified through their regional health authority exposure and contact tracing notifications.

The organization says there is limited publicly available notifications and provides the example of current School District No. 57 messaging on the topic of timelines with respect to notifications:

“If Northern Health identifies anyone at the school that needs to self-monitor or self isolate, they will be contacted directly by Northern Health. That contact often occurs within 24 to 48 hours, however, may be shorter or longer depending on the circumstances. This may be in the form of a letter or a phone call.”

The Federation is also reporting that it’s hearing concerns regarding variable reporting of and response to school-based COVID-19 exposures.

In particular, the BCFT says there are reports of inconsistencies with how exposure notifications are communicated and if and when contact tracing is carried out.

The BCTF is calling on the provincial government to: standardize definitions of exposures, cluster, and outbreak across all health authorities; take steps to address reported delays in contact tracing in all health authorities particularly in the Northern Health region; and address transparency and consistency concerns by posting and communicating all school exposure notices broadly to school communities.