Hand hygiene in portable classrooms an issue for Vancouver parents

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While teachers focus on the use of masks to keep everyone safe in classrooms, parents are pointing to what they consider a less-than-ideal situation for keeping hands clean in portable classrooms.

The school district uses 117 portables. Most don’t have running water (but just how many have plumbing the Vancouver School Board hasn’t been able to say).

All portables have been equipped with hand-sanitizers, but parents like Stephanie Schick say the units can only do so much.

“Not everyone can use hand-sanitizers if they have skin conditions. I don’t think everyone wants to eat with their fingers after they put hand-sanitizers on their hands. It also doesn’t remove grime or dirt, and it doesn’t remove allergens,” she notes.

If students in portables want to wash their hands, they have to head into the school, and wait their turns while adhering to physical distancing, and limits on how any students are allowed in washrooms, to access sinks.

Schick, who doesn’t want her child’s school publicized,  points out portables are used when schools are full, so washrooms are very busy places in schools not designed to hold that many students.

“It doesn’t seem acceptable, in my opinion, for hand-hygiene to be treated this way during a pandemic, when that has been drummed into us from the beginning.”

She says parents aren’t necessarily aware of the situation until she brings it up – then they are shocked.

“When I brought it up in a Parent Advisory Council meeting, parents emailed me to say they can’t believe that the school board hasn’t come up with a way for our kids to wash their hands. Some people then wrote letters to the board, and our PAC wrote a letter.”

She acknowledges installing plumbing in every portable would be cost-prohibitive. That’s why she has asked the district why portables can’t be equipped with mobile hand-washing stations much like construction companies use.

“I know businesses and my other daughter goes to an independent school where they were able to put in portable sinks. Nobody has been able to tell me why this isn’t an option.”

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There have been suggestions the school district did launch a pilot project with a mobile sink at a school portable but was discontinued. However, the school board has not been able to provide any further clarification.

Schick can only guess why the trial ended. “I think some of the roadblocks tend to be union issues, as to whose responsibilities it would be to empty the grey water from these units.”

But she wonders if duties could be sorted out with the extra federal financing given to school districts to help keep classrooms safe.

“They’ve been given a significant amount of money. I don’t see, as a parent, how that money has been spent, at least at our school, other than they upgraded the faucets and have a stock of hand-sanitizer.”

The school board says efforts are underway to improve the hand-washing situation. It says before the end of the school year, a hundred sinks will added to about 50 elementary sites.

“Health and safety of students and staff is the top priority of the Vancouver School District. The District follows all health and safety guidelines directed by the provincial public health, including regarding hand washing facilities,” says the district in a statement.

It adds there are no plans to add plumbing to any portables for the next school year.

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