Parents relieved over Surrey school ordered closed due to COVID-19 outbreak 

Parents relieved over Surrey school ordered closed due to COVID-19 outbreak 

Parents of students at a school forced to close in Surrey, B.C., due to an outbreak of COVID-19 say they’re relieved about the order from the Fraser Health Authority.

“Thankful, relieved,” said Roni Senghera, president of the parent advisory council for Cambridge Elementary School.

“I think as most parents we were very relieved that they did take that action. We wish it could have been sooner.”

On Saturday, Fraser Health said it advised the school to close for two weeks after seven cases were confirmed onsite.

Fraser Health has classified those cases as an outbreak, meaning cases have passed between cohorts.

Senghera said before Fraser Health issued the notice many parents struggled to figure what to do as children and staff began to fall ill with the virus, such as whether to seek out tests or pull their children from classes.

She said information from the district and health authority did not keep up with conditions as they were evolving at the school.

“I hope this will wake people up … for this to not happen again,” she said.

Senghera describes Cambridge as one of the largest elementary schools in the district. She said it has 760 children registered, with 250 of them currently learning remotely.

Beloved music teacher ill

Her own children at the school, twin boys in Grade 2, only attended the school part-time while learning from home as well.

But Senghera says they were recently in attendance on a day when the school’s music teacher Darlene Lourenco was present. Lourenco is now in hospital in intensive care with COVID-19, according to parents who are trying to raise funds to help her.

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“When Darlene Lourenco’s news came out … it was heartbreaking,” said Kimberley Laing, who has two children at the school.

“I burst into tears, my kids started writing cards for her. She is a beacon in our community. Her music brings joy.”

Cambridge Elementary School in Surrey is one of the largest in the district with around 760 children registered in 2020. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

As exposure event notices at the school began to add up in late October, Laing made the decision to pull her children from the school on Nov. 1 for two weeks after they had contact with a family that tested positive for the coronavirus.

She, along with Senghera, hopes the closure will result in new policies — not only for their school, but province-wide.

They want smaller class sizes, such as what the union representing teachers has asked for, mandatory mask-wearing inside at all times and more supervision on playgrounds to keep cohorts apart.

“We’re scared for our students and we want things to change,” Senghera said.

Jordan Tinney, the superintendent for Surrey Schools, said in a letter that all staff and students who were onsite at Cambridge from Nov. 2 to Nov. 13 should self-isolate for 14 days.

He said Fraser Health is also asking those people to get tested for COVID-19.

Laing and Senghera said that amounts to around 850 people.

Fraser Health did not agree to interview requests on Sunday. On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will hold a media availability at 3 p.m. PT when she will update the latest pandemic numbers.

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‘Tip of the iceberg’

Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said teachers at Cambridge are also relieved about the closure and that it confirmed what they were worried about for weeks: that the virus was spreading at the school.

Westphal expects regional and provincial officials to address what went wrong at Cambridge and make changes.

“We have to look at Cambridge as not an isolated case but perhaps the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“There are areas and neighbourhoods where the virus is not under good control so we fear that we are going to see more situations like this.”

Two other schools in the Fraser Health region will also be closing for two weeks along with Cambridge, although voluntarily.

Jarvis Elementary School in Delta has seen six cases, while Al-Hidayah School, an independent school in New Westminster, has seen eight.

The cases are being described as clusters and the schools are closing due to staffing issues as a result.

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