Thousands of students across three B.C. post-secondary schools are calling for a pivot to online learning as classes resume during the pandemic’s fifth wave.
Petitions have been launched by students at Langara College, BCIT and Douglas College, urging the schools to move online to protect students and staff from the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The BCIT petition has garnered 3,779 signatures so far. In the petition, students call for BCIT to update their COVID safety measures.
“While teachers are protected by plexiglass and a 6-foot distance, students are crammed into small classrooms with no free seats,” the petition states.
Inspired by the BCIT petition, nursing students at Langara launched their own — just over 1,000 students are calling on Langara to offer online classes until the third week of January or later.
The Douglas College petition has reached 1,835 signatures. In it, students detail their concerns about small classroom sizes where physical distancing is impossible.
“Many students like myself live with at-risk family and cannot afford to get sick and miss work,” student Payal Bansal wrote. “It is the benefit of everyone that we limit in-person contact until it is safe. For heavily lab-based programs like nursing, having in-person clinicals would be safer with the majority of students who do not need to be in school, be online. Douglas, make the right choice.”
Each of the petitions noted that other post-secondary schools like Trinity Western, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, UBC, SFU, UVIC and UNBC have delayed in-person learning or offered a mix of online and in-person classes until late January. The petitioners called on their institutions to do the same.
On Dec. 21, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry sent a letter to university presidents that “strongly recommended” a return to in-person learning.
“Based on our experience in B.C. and internationally, educational settings are low-risk for COVID-19 transmission. Transmission in educational settings on campus continues to be uncommon,” Henry wrote.
“When a post-secondary student or employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the exposure is typically found to be associated with a social setting; they have not generated forward transmission in the classroom or office environment.”
The PHO went on to say that the structure of educational settings is more likely to prevent COVID transmission than non-structured environments students would be in while learning from home. They also said that online learning was associated with “significant” negative consequences for post-secondary students, who reported poorer and worsening mental health and greater negative economic impacts than other British Columbians.
Henry wrote that strong adherence to vaccination and mask-wearing makes educational settings safer, despite the fact that fully vaccinated people can still become infected and transmit COVID-19.
“Public health will continue to monitor COVID-19 and remain actively engaged with postsecondary institutions to make new recommendations, if and when they become necessary.”
As of Jan. 11, there are 34,551 known active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., though with testing capacity limited, the real number could be four to five times higher. There are 431 people currently in hospital with COVID-19.
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