VICTORIA -- As smoke continues to blanket southern Vancouver Island, the Greater Victoria Teachers Association (GVTA) is calling for an immediate closure of all schools in the district until air quality returns to safe levels.

Monday marked the first day of full-time classes for students and it came under a blanket of thick smoke.

“I think schools need to close until the air quality improves to safe levels,” said Winona Waldron, president of the Great Victoria Teachers Association.

The GVTA is calling it a double whammy. Schools are dealing with poor air quality while at the same time trying to keep children safe during a pandemic.

“If it weren’t for the added danger of a pandemic it would be a different story,” said Waldron.

Under normal circumstances, schools could protect against the smoke by keeping kids inside and closing windows and doors.

However, the GVTA says under these smoky conditions, that’s not an option.

“We’ve been told to keep kids safe at schools (from COVID-19). We have to have windows and doors open and lots of fresh air ventilation,” said Waldron. “That’s just not possible.”

In a statement to CTV News, the Greater Victoria School District said, “With the air quality index sitting at 10+ today, schools are implementing protocols similar to a hold and secure which includes keeping students inside during school hours if they have respiratory conditions or they are not able to tolerate the air quality.”

“All Covid-19 Health and safety measures remain in place in all schools,” the statement added.

In a letter sent to parents last night, the school district said that air quality varied in the district depending on the location. SD61 said that in some circumstances, exterior windows and doors would be closed during the day.

Waldron says she’s heard from some teachers with pre-existing conditions that have called in sick today. She has also been fielding questions around refusing unsafe work, under WorkSafeBC.

“This is the same as a snow day,” said Waldron. “It’s not safe right now and I am worried about both our students and our staff.”

For now, the district has no plans to close schools. The GVTA says it will continue to talk with the school district in hopes of a resolution.

This smoke is expected to stick around until next week.