North Shore parents whose kids are heading back to school this week say they’re not happy about the government’s decision to stop providing notifications when a child’s classmate or teacher tests positive for COVID-19.
“Given the fact that we're almost back to the daily case count we saw at the peak in the spring, it honestly makes no sense to me,” said Coralynn Gehl, a West Vancouver mom who runs a Facebook site where North Shore parents swap information about COVID-19.
“I've already heard from tons of parents who are really unhappy about the fact that these notifications are not going out,” she said.
Last year, Vancouver Coastal Health and school principals sent notices to parents in classes where cases of COVID-19 had been identified, telling them to monitor for possible symptoms. In some cases, where health officials felt transmission had occurred in school or there had been close contact among a number of children, whole classes were directed to self-isolate.
No notices for single cases
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s medical health officer, recently said, however, that notifications won’t go out for individual cases of COVID-19 this year. Henry said the decision was made because most people felt the school letters were “more anxiety-provoking” than helpful.
She said anyone considered at risk will still be contacted. Parents will also still be notified of any “outbreak” or “cluster” of cases in a school, she said.
That isn’t sitting well with many parents.
Parents criticize 'paternalistic' attitude
“I think it's shockingly paternalistic of her to suggest that parents can't handle knowing what's going on in their schools,” said Gehl. “I heard from dozens and dozens of parents last year who told me that knowing that they were seeing the [notification] letters online was the only thing that actually made them comfortable sending their kids to school.”
Alicia Woods is one local mom who disagrees with the decision to end the COVID notices.
“I find it really concerning, because I think most of the anxiety actually came from the lack of transparency last year,” she said, noting the decision not to group students into cohorts this year means the virus has the potential to spread farther and faster.
“Without those notices, you don't have the option of making informed choices for your family. A lot of people I know have grandparents living in their homes, or they have immune-compromised children, and they might get one of those notices and decide to stay home for a few days. And I think that's their right.”
North Vancouver mom and cancer survivor Shirlee Law kept her son home doing online schooling last year. This year, her son is heading back to class. Law said not knowing if there’s a case in her son’s class leaves her in the dark about the risk she’s taking.
Some 'outbreaks' not declared as definitions changed, parents say
Gehl said based on the experience of the last school year, she has no faith that health authorities will inform parents about outbreaks or clusters. Definitions of those terms seemed to change regularly and were not consistent between health authorities, she said. On the North Shore, there were instances of multiple cases in the same classroom that were never declared as outbreaks or clusters, she added.
Among children aged 12 to 17 on the North Shore, between 84 and 89 per cent have received one dose of vaccine and between 71 and 78 per cent have received two doses. Vaccines have not yet been approved for kids under 12.
About 22,000 students on the North Shore head back to school this week.