B.C. teachers calling for smaller classes, stricter mask regulations for schools

B.C. teachers calling for smaller classes, stricter mask regulations for schools
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B.C. teachers are pushing the Ministry of Education to ramp up safety measures in schools as a return to the classroom in September approaches.

B.C. teachers are pushing the ministry of education to ramp up safety measures in schools as a return to the classroom in September approaches.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation expressed concerns on Wednesday over the current safety protocols in place, calling on the government to implement stricter mask requirements and smaller class sizes that allow for physical distancing.

B.C. teachers are also asking for more options that allow for remote learning where possible.

“In an ideal situation, back to learning would mean all schools are safe for 100 per cent of students, teachers, and support staff to return all at once,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said in a prepared statement on Wednesday. “However, the sharp rise in active COVID-19 cases has many people worried that the government has not done enough to ensure teachers, students, and their families are safe.”

British Columbia has been experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with health officials announcing 83 new cases on Tuesday.

Over this past weekend, the ballooning coronavirus case numbers reached the 100 mark for a 24-hour period and health officials are anticipate the trajectory of a second wave to be worse than when the pandemic first took hold back in March.

“The government and the office of the provincial health officer have done excellent work on enhancing contact tracing strategies, but our members are rightly concerned that not enough has been done on preventing the transmission of the virus in schools,” said Mooring.

Although Mooring and the BCTF are in support of the efforts that the province is putting towards jump-starting education this fall, the teachers have growing concerns about the plan for classrooms.

“Right across this province, new timetables are being developed that will see teachers and support staff in classrooms with up to 30 students or more without physical barriers, capacity limits, or face coverings that we have all grown accustomed to in other workplaces like the grocery store, dental office, or restaurant,” reads the press release. “Physical distancing is not possible in these classrooms. The situation will be particularly worrisome in B.C.’s largest and fastest-growing districts that have hundreds of portables.”

Mooring points out that many facilities have outdated ventilation systems and a multitude of classrooms across the province don’t have external windows.

Earlier this week, the B.C. government announced that masks would be mandatory for middle school and secondary school students in “high-traffic areas” of schools, such as hallways or common spaces. B.C. teachers are indicating that they don’t feel this is strict enough.

“You can’t have a group of 30 17-year-olds in a typical classroom for hours and maintain physical distancing for them or their teacher. It’s just not possible,” reads Mooring’s message.

“B.C. needs to reduce classroom density and mandate mask use whenever appropriate physical distancing isn’t possible. That includes our workspaces like classrooms, labs, and libraries — not just common spaces like hallways.”

In addition to asking for stricter mask policies, B.C. teachers are poking holes in one of the cornerstones of the Province’s education plan – learning groups. The BCTF feels that the cohorts can work in some regards, however, still create risks.

“The government’s learning groups concept will work for contact tracing, but the plan doesn’t include adequate preventative measures within the learning groups. B.C. teachers, and the families they go home to, need more protection,” said Mooring.

Students are currently set to return to classrooms on Sept. 10 and teachers have seemingly expressed some optimism towards the additional changes made by the province. However, there has been no word from the BCTF on what course of action would be taken if additional preventative measures aren’t implemented prior to the September start date.

“Like every other worker in this province, we have a right to be safe,” concludes Mooring.

Below is a full list of concerns and recommendations being put forward by the BCTF:

  • Classroom density reduced to allow for physical distancing.
  • An option for remote learning, especially for medically complex children or those who have a medically compromised close family member, that allows the child to remain connected to their school with access to the full range of supports and services.
  • Dedicated funding for improvements to school ventilation and HVAC systems to ensure worksites meet or exceed COVID-19 requirements.
  • All adults and students 10 years and older be required to wear face masks when physical distancing is not possible, as long as there is not a medical condition that prevents usage.
  • Schools and worksites retrofitted with physical barriers for safety, where physical distancing is not possible.
  • Additional funding to ensure custodial cleaning of high touch surface areas are completed twice during the day, in addition to regular cleanings.
  • Accommodations for teachers who are immunocompromised or have chronic health conditions.
Graham CoxGraham Cox

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