The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association is asking for immediate closure of schools, saying wildfire smoke responses are in conflict with COVID-19 protocols. (Black Press Media file photo)

The Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association is asking for immediate closure of schools, saying wildfire smoke responses are in conflict with COVID-19 protocols. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria teachers calling for schools to close due to poor air quality

Teachers’ association says SD61’s air quality response conflicts with COVID-19 safety protocols

Greater Victoria teachers are calling for the immediate closure of the region’s schools until air quality improves.

Air quality is in the high or very high health risk levels for communities across B.C., including Greater Victoria, which is expected to stay smoky until at least Thursday. The poor air quality, caused by wildfires burning in California, Oregon and Washington, comes with a provincial warning to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and for children to avoid all outdoor physical exertion.

The Greater Victoria Teacher’s Association (GVTA) issued a statement Monday calling on the Greater Victoria School District (SD61) to close schools, arguing that the school district’s plan for a ‘hold and secure’ is in direct conflict with COVID-19 exposure mitigation protocols, such as opening windows, maximizing ventilation and moving activities and classes outdoors when possible.

READ ALSO: Wildfire smoke lingers over Greater Victoria

READ ALSO: Canada Post to suspend delivery to parts of B.C. due to wildfire smoke

On Sunday, SD61 acknowledged the region’s poor air quality and asked schools in areas with high smoke density to practice strategies similar to a hold and secure, such as keeping windows and doors closed during the school day and keeping students who can’t tolerate the smoke inside during recess and lunch breaks.

SD61 added all COVID-19 health and safety control measures remain in place.

But the GVTA counters that the two policies can’t operate in tandem. Having students indoors, without masks and opportunities for outdoor learning is dangerous, the association says.

“This is a recipe for COVID transmission,” the GVTA writes. “And students and staff will not be safe.”

Environment Canada extended its smoke warning early Monday afternoon.

“Very heavy smoke from the United States is continuing to have extensive impacts across the southern third of the province with lesser impacts extending into the mid-regions of the province. Smoky conditions are expected to be variable but persist in areas currently being impacted until Thursday (Sept 17).”

READ ALSO: Learning groups, scattered lunches new norm for Greater Victoria students


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