B.C. government says schools will reopen next week for essential workers' kids; others return on January 10

A group called Safe Schools Coalition BC has called for an end to in-classroom instruction until the number of COVID-19 cases goes down

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      In the midst of an Omicron outbreak that has led some universities to promote more online learning, the B.C. government still wants to keep K-12 schools open.

      Today, the province revealed that there will be a phased reopening, with the children of essential workers and kids with special needs going back to school next week.

      Then on January 10, all other students from K-12 will be expected to return to classes.

      Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside announced several safety measures, including staggered openings and a requirement that everyone wear a mask.

      In addition, there will be daily health checks in schools and learning-environment configurations will be changed to avoid face-to-face seating.

      That didn't come close to meeting the wishes of Safe Schools Coalition BC, which issued eight demands in an open letter to Whiteside today.

      It cited evidence from the U.K., South Africa, and the New York region showing that hospitalizations were higher due to Omicron than compared with other COVID-19 variants.

      "Omicron is also a fairly new variant. It has only been circulating for about 6 weeks, therefore there is no data on long-term effects," the letter states. "However, there is data that COVID-19 can cause damage to multiple organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, and kidneys, as evidenced by many people, including children, who suffer from Long Covid afterwards.

      "Declaring that Omicron is 'mild' and allowing it to run rampant through society when long-term data cannot be assessed yet runs counter to keeping our children and families (and yes, even the economy) safe."

      The coalition's first demand was to move schools to remote learning unless a health authority can demonstrate a positivity rate below five percent through measurement in testing centres with the capacity to use PCR evaluations to all who request this.

      In addition, it demanded that HEPA air purifiers be purchased for all learning spaces and making N95 or KN95 respirators or their equivalent to all staff and any students who need them.

      "Safe Schools Coalition BC understands that in-person learning is important," the letter states. "That is why SSCBC is advocating for multiple layers of protections to be employed so that once community transmission is lower, in-person schooling can be kept safer despite a much more transmissible variant." 

      Here are some of the reactions over Twitter to the province's announcement: