Government plan for reopening schools needs more time and work: BC Teachers’ Federation

IN response to the government’s announcement to fully reopen BC schools on September 8, BC Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring said the plan needs more time and a lot more work if it’s going to be successful and keep everyone safe.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on all of us, especially children and youth,” said Mooring. “Education is vital and we all agree that students need to return to school, rebuild their social connections, and learn from their teachers in a classroom setting. A lot of excellent work has already gone into the restart planning by the steering committee and working groups, but this announcement misses the mark on several critical components and should go back to those working groups. This plan is still a work in progress and there is a lot of room for improvement. I am confident that with more authentic consultation and collaboration, we can get to a much better place.

“The reopening needs to be safe, careful, and get the buy-in of teachers, support staff, parents, and students. If the plan is rushed or too many questions are left unanswered, it won’t be successful. Bringing everyone back all at once, even with some version of a cohort model, on the first day after the Labour Day long weekend, is too much too soon given the many unanswered questions in today’s announcement.

“Teachers and support staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures, make sure the proper health and safety protocols work, and prepare curricular resources and lessons that meet the new reality. If school staffs are given time to collaborate, get training, and prepare, everyone will be better off.

“As a teacher, parent, grandparent, and President of the BCTF, I agree that we need to get back to in-person learning. There were a lot of challenges with emergency remote learning in the spring as well as the partial return in June. But, the imperative to get students back into schools needs to be balanced with health and safety considerations in the context of how schools actually function. Based on what the government released today, their plan isn’t ready yet. It needs more work.”

Mooring stressed that there is time to do that work and make the necessary improvements to ensure everyone in the school system can return with confidence. She also praised the government for pulling together a significant amount of new funding to improve cleaning, hire more staff, and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to all teachers and staff who need or want it. The BCTF has been advocating for PPE to be provided since the spring.

As part of the government’s planning process, the BCTF has two representatives on the Ministry of Education’s steering committee and 25 active classroom teachers on the working groups. The BCTF’s representatives were surprised to see some of the details in the announcement made today and agree that the system isn’t ready to enact the government’s plan at this point. As a result, Mooring is calling on the government to let the steering committee and working groups get back to the job of identifying solutions and delay implementation of this current version of the restart plan.

“We all share the same goal—getting students and teachers safely back into class—but there’s still a lot to do before we can say with confidence that September will be safe and successful. So today, I’m calling on the Minister of Education, Office of the Provincial Health Officer, and government to let the steering committee and working groups keep taking on the big issues, come up with the right solutions, and make important changes to this restart plan,” said Mooring.

Here are some of the key concerns the BCTF is asking the government to address with the working groups:

* Authentic consultation and collaboration at the local level between school districts and local unions.

* Health and safety measures in place and tested before staff return to the school site and before students return to class.

* Time in September for teachers to plan, prepare, and undertake the necessary in-service training and health and safety orientations to enable equitable learning conditions and safe workplaces.

* Smaller classes to ensure all of the children, youth, and adults that share our school spaces can adhere to the physical distancing protocols we have all been asked to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

* More clarity around the proposed “cohort model” and how that will keep teachers safe while ensuring students still get their full education.

“The key to ensuring the reopening plan is improved is allowing the working groups to spend more time together and identify the solutions so the appropriate planning and implementation can get done. Those working groups have a wealth of knowledge to contribute and they should be given time to get back to work,” said Mooring.