Classes in Victoria resume, union raising concerns about lack of teacher accommodations

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WatchStudents physically distance in Victoria as B.C. students start to head back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With sanitizer in hand, some students in the Greater Victoria School District headed back into the classroom Monday, as B.C.schools gradually reopened in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Schools are operating at 50 per cent capacity. In-class instruction is voluntary and groups of students will come in at different dates.

There are mandatory sanitizing and hand washing stops, along with social distancing in and out of the classroom.

“These are uncharted territories,” said Central Middle School principal Gillian Braun.

“It’s like starting the school year all over again, and so there is the excitement mixed with wondering of how this is going to go. We are following the protocols and WorkSafe, as well as the provincial health office.”

But the Greater Victoria’s teachers’ union says the Greater Victoria School District (School District 61) is not making certain accommodations for teachers that other districts across the province are.

“We have teachers in three different categories that need accommodations,” said Winona Waldron, president of Greater Victoria’s Teachers’ Association.

“They’ve got significant health concerns, or they live with a family member with significant family concerns, or they have yet to secure childcare, and so for those members, it’s very difficult to be told to return to work.”

They say other districts are calling in teachers on call to cover those who are not able to work in class and say in SD61 teachers are being asked to take unpaid days off or a medical leave.

SD61 says they are working with the union, and that:

“The school district will continue to assess accommodation requests on a case by case basis in accordance with the law,” the district said in a statement.

But the association says they are happy with the other measures put in place, and teachers say they are happy to be back with students

“Kids are happy, kids are excited to be here, they want to have some time with their friends,” said Braun.

“Our main purpose is to support their learning but also for them to socialize with their friend safely and have a bit of normalcy back in their life.”

The Greater Victoria School District says it is confident that students and staff are being kept safe. But it is also knows opening classrooms could open up places for the virus to spread.

“I’m absolutely confident in the steps we have taken, again we have all been guided by Dr. Bonnnie Henry, her advice has been amazing. She has said that at some point there is a likelihood, that is a possibility, and we will plan for that and we will prep for that.,” said Shelley Green, SD61 Superintendent.

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