As children returned to school on Monday with the new normal of COVID-19 restrictions, the Victoria’s school districts issued new notices in the wake of wildfire smoke blanketing the city.
Air quality in the area remained among the worst in the world as of Monday morning, with forecasts on Environment Canada predicting lasting conditions into Tuesday.
On Sunday, Greater Victoria School District 61 (SD61) issued an advisory to families that they would be restricting outdoor classes and monitoring breaks due to the smoke.
SD61 said they will be practicing strategies similar to a “Hold and Secure,” which is normally issued in response to situations like nearby wildlife or criminal activity.
These strategies include keeping exterior windows and doors closed, and keeping students in during recess or lunch breaks if they cannot tolerate the air quality.
On Sunday afternoon the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) took to Twitter to ask the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the Provincial Health Officer for guidance.
“The combination of COVID19 pandemic and extremely poor wildfire air quality is deeply concerning for #bced,” the BCTF wrote.
“Teachers and students should not be in crowded classes with no ventilation or fresh air.”
The combination of COVID19 pandemic and extremely poor wildfire air quality is deeply concerning for #bced. Teachers and students should not be in crowded classes with no ventilation or fresh air. #BCpoli, the employers, @CDCofBC and PHO need to provide advice and take action now
— BCTF (@bctf) September 13, 2020
Saanich School District 63 said on their website Monday morning that they would “continue to monitor the situation and restrict outdoor activities as indicated by the advisories.”
In Sooke, School District 62 (SD62) included a notice about the wildfire smoke in an email to parents and guardians on Sunday. They said that if air quality ratings remained at “high risk” or “very high risk” they would be asking students to stay inside.
“We are planning for the possibility of a continued air quality advisory into next week,” said SD62.
“If this were to occur, we will be asking students to stay inside our schools rather than being outside during instructional and non-instructional time.”
In a Facebook post Monday morning, the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA) demanded a closure of all schools until air quality had returned to safe levels.
“Today students will be in full sized classrooms with no physical distancing requirements, no outdoor learning, no open windows to compensate for HVAC systems with low rated MERV filters, and no mask policies,” said the GVTA.
“This is a recipe for Covid transmission, and students and staff will not be safe.”