The president of the union representing teachers in British Columbia is concerned about a lack of funds allocated for COVID-19 classroom safety improvements.
B.C.’s budget, unveiled Tuesday, has earmarked $3 billion for pandemic recovery and $3.1 billion for new schools and seismic upgrades on education over a three-year period. It has also allocated $106 million for “classroom enhancement” over the same time frame. However, it does not specifically mention any funding for improved safety measures related to COVID-19 within schools.
Terri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said the fact that there was no targeted funding towards those types of safety improvements such as HEPA filters in schools, is a concern.
“There needs to be an infusion of money in order for schools to improve their ventilation systems. That has been well-documented and is concerning,” she said during a media scrum at the budget lockdown Tuesday.
Ontario announced that it would provide an additional 40,000 air purifiers to school boards — something the BCTF has publicly stated it wants to see in B.C. classrooms and schools.
In an interview with CHEK News, Mooring said specific funding for ventilation systems in schools was an item the union was looking for in this year’s budget and is disappointed that it wasn’t specifically included.
“The prioritization of ventilation systems was something that we were looking for,” she said. “There is a definite need for HEPA filters.”
Mooring said the budget doesn’t include any funding for N95 masks, which she believes is something that should be provided to staff and students throughout the pandemic.
“There will be some teachers and some students that will be clinically vulnerable that will continue to need masks and we think that they ought to be provided.”
There were more than 11,000 K-12 students who tested positive for COVID-19 from mid-December and mid-January, according to B.C. government data.
With COVID-19 still circulating, Mooring said the budget makes no reference to improvements around daytime custodial cleaning, which she believes is important given the ongoing pandemic.
“Cleaning is something that supports safe schools in terms of communicable diseases and so that is something we would have liked to have seen in the budget as well,” she said.
Mooring said while there were a few positives in the budget, such as increased funding for additional student enrollment and adult education, the province failed to address COVID-19 safety concerns.
“[The budget] comes up short, which has been the story throughout the pandemic,” she said.
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