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B.C. schools urged to close over wildfire smoke, COVID-19 concerns

Monday, September 14th 2020, 8:04 pm - Major districts like Vancouver and Surrey say they will open — and keep students safe.

The union representing B.C. teachers is urging the province to close schools on Monday citing the combined threat of wildfire smoke, which is affecting air quality, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Twitter post Sunday night, the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) says it wants the province and other health officials to step in and keep teachers and students at home.

"The combination of COVID-19 pandemic and extremely poor wildfire air quality is deeply concerning for #bced," said the post. "Teachers and students should not be in crowded classes with no ventilation or fresh air."

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The BCTF did not immediately respond to a request for an interview to elaborate on its concerns.

Wildfire smoke drifting north from the western United States has blanketed much of British Columbia since last week and made for poor visibility along with poor air quality.

Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, for example, have been under an air quality advisory for almost a week.

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SCHOOLS WILL OPEN

For many B.C. students, Monday is set to be the first full day of instruction. Last week, many schools provided orientation sessions to advise students how the year will proceed amid the ongoing threat of the pandemic.

Educators worked to put in place protocols such as staggered start times, enhanced cleaning and physical distancing rules to keep schools safe.

Major school districts such as Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria posted messages on their websites on Sunday saying that schools would be open Monday and precautions would be taken to keep students and staff safe from poor air quality as well.

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Some of those steps include avoiding physical education outside, keeping students who are sensitive to smoke indoors and closing windows.

"Our school district has been closely monitoring the situation, and is consulting with the Ministry of Education and our public health experts to ensure that our schools continue to be safe environments for our staff and students," said the Surrey School District.

The Greater Victoria School District said it hoped conditions would improve overnight Sunday.

Forecasters expect air quality from wildfire smoke to begin improving Sunday night, with a full clearing sometime in the next couple of days.

The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Sunday evening.

This article, written by Chad Pawson, was originally published for CBC News.

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