Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Students watch as a teacher participates in a solidarity march with her colleagues to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Feb. 23, 2021.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

New data from British Columbia’s worker safety agency show the province’s elementary-school teachers have been approved for COVID-19 insurance claims at a higher rate than their counterparts at secondary schools, and teachers say the statistics are evidence that they are being infected at their workplace.

The head of the BC Teachers’ Federation, or BCTF, says the data bolster the union’s demand for a wider mask policy in elementary schools, where face coverings are currently not required.

“We think part of the explanation around the high rates of teachers at elementary schools being diagnosed with COVID-19 is around the lack of mask policy among students in elementary schools,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

She pointed out other possible factors, too, including the lack of physical distancing in elementary schools, whereas in some districts, some secondary schools have reduced their classroom density.

The data, updated by WorkSafeBC last Friday, show 265 claims related to COVID-19 exposure were submitted in the education sector. That follows the total number from the health care and social services industry, where more than 2,500 claims were filed.

The data say among 98 claims submitted by elementary-school and kindergarten teachers, 88 have been allowed. For secondary-school teachers, 35 claims were made and 26 were approved.

According to the agency’s website, claims are allowed when the evidence is sufficient to establish the worker has COVID-19 and the risk in the workplace was significantly higher than the ordinary exposure risk. Claims are typically disallowed if it can’t be established that the worker has COVID-19 or if the worker has gone off work as a preventative measure.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, along with the Education Minister, have repeatedly rebuffed demands by the teachers to require masks in the lower grades. The ministry said in an e-mail Tuesday that while there are school exposures, the transmission rate inside schools remains low. This indicates its guidelines are working, the ministry said.

But Ms. Mooring at the BCTF said there has been no evidence provided to back that up. She urged the provincial government and provincial health office to share the data about transmission at schools with the union.

The ministry says mask policy at schools is based on Dr. Henry’s direction. However, at a briefing Monday, Dr. Henry indicated she provides advice and the ministry makes the decision.

Story continues below advertisement

“There are mask mandates in the public-health guidance and then each school district, each school, puts the operational pieces in place using those guidelines,” she said.

“We have public-health guidance and then there’s Ministry of Education directives that are based on the public-health guidance and those are enforced in the schools with partnership between the school district, the school principal, and the school health officer in that area.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said at the provincial legislature Tuesday that she has not reviewed the WorkSafeBC data yet. She said the ministry has been working with districts and health authorities to ensure schools are as safe as they can be.

Last month, B.C. expanded its mask mandate, requiring high-school and middle-school students to cover up in class. But Dr. Henry has refused to endorse mandating elementary-school students to do so.

B.C. has 35,149 full-time classroom teachers with about 60 per cent of those in elementary schools.

Last week, Surrey, B.C., schools brought in enhanced measures as the district has experienced more school-based exposures than any other district in the province, but a broader mask mandate in elementary schools is not among them. Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education, said several exposures were “community acquired,” and have not resulted in school-based transmission.

Story continues below advertisement

Matthew Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said it’s worth noting the two schools in the Surrey school district that closed because of outbreaks were both elementary schools.

“This is not to say that COVID-19 in secondary schools is not a concern, because it certainly is. … However, the greatest discrepancy between elementary and secondary schools is that elementary students are not required to wear masks at any time at school, whereas secondary students must wear masks anytime they are on the move or in common areas outside the classroom,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Elementary schools lack a basic layer of protection that is present in secondary schools, and we have not heard the public-health office provide a scientific explanation for why it is not following an approach to masks that has been implemented by public-health officials in other Canadian jurisdictions,” he said.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies