Teachers slam province’s commercial for being ‘unrealistic’ about back to school

Teachers slam province's commercial for being 'unrealistic' about back to school
WatchCritics are slamming a commercial from the Ministry of Education for portraying an "unrealistic" idea of what back to school will look like.

Going to school is important and will look a little different this year.

That’s the message from B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a commercial from the province released Friday.

The 30-second commercial shows how school life will look this September, as students and teacher prep for the upcoming school year.

“The ads are intended to show the ministry of education is working closely with public health officials including the provincial health officer for a safe return to school,” said the ministry in a statement to CHEK News.

But the ad is facing backlash from teachers.

“I just feel like this gives you an unrealistic expectation of what that looks like,” said Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA).

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The commercial features a handful of students in the class with Dr. Bonnie Henry, which is only a fraction of the number of kids that will be actually be coming back to classrooms in September.

“It’s a lovely fantasy about what a classroom looks like,” said Waldron. “Most classes will have 29 to30 students.”

For some teachers, that many kids in the classroom is too risky.

“I’ve had three phone calls today from teachers who have to take medical leaves because their doctors are telling them under these conditions it’s not safe for you to return to work,” said the GVTA president.

In the commercial, Dr. Henry speaks about how kids will spend more time with the same classmates and teachers, and that there will be increased handwashing.

Waldron says that’s easier said than done because most classrooms in Victoria do not have sinks, although the ministry is providing hand sanitizer.

But what do parents and students think of the latest messages from the province?

“I think the message is good,” said parent Ben Harrison. “But I think there comes a time when they have to be a little more firm and directive than suggestive in terms of their messing.”

“It’s going to be chaos,” said Jen Kakoske, another parent living in Greater Victoria. “I think you can’t get little kids to socially distance. You just can’t, it’s impossible.”

READ MORE: Back to school: What does a return to the classroom look like for Island students?

Aidan Fitzgerlad is heading into grade seven in September and says he is excited to see his friends again.

“The district is taking a lot of precautions and I think it’s going to be pretty safe to go back to school,” said the 12-year-old.

The GVTA is hoping the province will make changes to the current back to school plan, including making masks mandatory for grade four students and when physical distancing is not possible. The association is also strongly advocating for the option of remote learning for all B.C. students, saying more students at home means more space for those attending class.

On top of the “unrealistic” expectation for schools that the commercial promoted, Waldron was also bothered by one specific detail in the advertisement.

“I think it concerning that the only imagery of a student wearing a mask is an Asian student wearing a mask and she looks kind of sad,” said Waldron. “I think it’s racist but on top of it, it makes masks look like something that’s othering.”

For now, the GVTA, will continue to advocate for change regarding the back to school plan as students and teachers get ready for September.

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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