The union representing the province’s teachers says time is running out to prepare schools for a safe return to class next week.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said Monday (Aug. 31) the $242 million announced for the province’s schools by the feds last week could go a long way to making schools safer.
First on her list? “A remote option offered to parents across the entire province that allows their child to stay connected to their home school, that allows them to keep their spot at their home school.”
Currently, B.C.’s return to school plans do not provide a remote learning option, although Education Minister Rob Fleming last week said that districts should work with parents to finesse strategies for specific students.
However, Mooring said that the province has left too much up to school districts, leaving parents with an uneven system of accommodations across the province. Although some districts are offering remote learning, and individual parents are pushing for that option for their children, she said there should be a top-down approach to put it into place.
“We see that it wouldn’t be difficult to provide this [remote] option – the funding is there,” she said. “It is important there is some leadership shown by the provincial government on this.”
Mooring said although that would require hiring more teachers, both for remote learning and to decrease classroom density, she believes that can be done in time for students to return to school on Sept. 10.
“It’s very common that that hiring happens in late August and early September in schools and so that that’s not unusual,” she said.
“There is the time and the money to improve the restart plan in B.C…. we need to see that money being released early this week.”
Mooring also took issue with an ad released by the B.C. government last Friday that showed a classroom with a small number of students acting out a classroom environment.
“It is an unrealistic depiction of what schools will look like,” Mooring said. “There are a handful of students in the room and they’re safely distanced apart. That’s not the plan right now.”
The number of students shown in the classroom was smaller than the averages given by the education ministry, which range between 18 students for kindergarten to 22.4 for high school classes.
However, Mooring said that class averages do not give an accurate impression of class sizes, which are often skewed by small schools in rural B.C.
“The most common class size for Grade 4 to 12 is 30; that’s the cap that’s most common in collective agreements,” she said. “We know we’re going to have classrooms of 30, thousands of them across the province, and not every district has caps of their class sizes.”
The issue, Mooring said, is exacerbated in portables, often used in growing school districts such as Surrey and Chilliwack.
“Some of them have windows that open and some of them don’t,” she said. “They’re often very small spaces.”
The BCTF would also like to see a “more robust” mask policy, which would see younger children wearing masks in more situations. Currently, masks are only mandated in “high traffic areas” such as hallways and buses for kids in middle and high schools. The union would also like to see some of the federal funding used to upgrade HVAC systems.
During a Monday COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the ad was “certainly not meant to represent” a real life classroom, but rather a conversation between her and kids in B.C. about what school would look like in the fall.
“We need to realize that was not a commercial about what a classroom was going to look like,” she said.
“We all had masks and we talked about when we would wear them,” she noted, adding that each child chose if and when to wear their mask.
“It was an opportunity for us to speak to children about some of the things that will be new and different.”
Henry added that the ad showed children from different schools around B.C., rather than kids from within one learning group, making for a greater emphasis on physical distancing and smaller numbers of students.
In a statement to Black Press Media, the education ministry said the purpose of the ad was to direct parents and students to a B.C. government websites for more information: backtoschool.gov.bc.ca.
“Each school will operate under strict health and safety measures with well-stocked supplies to support regular hand washing and hand hygiene and frequent cleaning of classrooms and high touch surfaces, along with daily monitoring of personal health before the school day begins and providing non-medical masks for students and staff,” the ministry said.
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