Thousands of BCIT students have signed a petition calling for the school to delay the return to in-class learning amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
They are scheduled to return to campus on Monday, after classes were moved online for the week of Jan. 4.
More than 3,000 people have signed the petition, authored by an anonymous Jane Doe, which states students feel “extremely vulnerable attending school in person on Monday.”
“Due to the widespread Omicron variant, we feel as though our safety and well-being are in jeopardy should classes return to campus,” the petition states.
“We are confused and disheartened that BCIT has not followed similar precautions that other post-secondary schools in the province like UBC, SFU, and UVic have. Each of these institutions have committed to the health, safety, and security of their students and staff by delaying in-person classes by three weeks into January.”
B.C. schools set to resume Monday with enhanced COVID-19 measures
Global News has requested comment from the school about the petition.
The institute’s website says BCIT is following the provincial health officer’s return-to-campus guidelines, and adds that daily health self-assessments and masks are mandatory for campus attendance.
Hailey Schoenhals, a student in the technology teacher education program, signed the petition which she said reflects anxiety among much of the student body.
Schoenhals said she understands that many of BCIT’s trades and technology programs are hands-on, and can’t be done virtually, but other programs could easily be shifted online.
“In my program, last year we used to do partial online, partial in-person and also half of our group, so we were in cohorts, and I did feel a lot more comfortable with that because there is less people and bigger spaces,” she said.
“I’m wondering why, since the numbers are worse, why we aren’t trying to do a similar situation or changing it up a little bit to make it feel safer for us.”
Schools prepare for the return to in-person learning as Omicron cases spike
Schoenhals said she knows several people in her program who have caught COVID or had scares, and others that are immunocompromised.
Many people at BCIT are younger, she added, and haven’t yet been invited to get a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Along with delaying a return to in-class learning, she’d like to see BCIT consulting with students and faculty to develop a blended model that reduces in-person contacts.
“Last semester … things were looking better, so we took some of the protocols out and we got back together, but things are looking a lot worse now,” she said.
“Those changes aren’t being made like they should be, in my mind.”
As of Friday, B.C. had at least 33,184 active cases of COVID-19, though official have conceded with testing at capacity the figure no longer truly represents the spread of the virus.
COVID hospitalizations Friday climbed to 349 Friday, more than 50 per cent higher than they were one week prior.
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