Op/Ed – BCTF President On COVID School Status

Fraser Valley/Vancouver/Victoria – On Saturday, BC Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring posted an opinion piece to social media. In it, she lays out what we know and don’t know about what the school year looks like, as the Province slowly opens up after all the COVID related restrictions.

School won’t be the same for quite some time:

Earlier this week, the Premier made an announcement about BC’s plan to slowly start reopening the economy and various public services. While we still don’t have the specifics about what that means for schools and teachers’ work, the Federation is working hard on members’ behalf to make sure health and safety is the top priority. BCTF President Teri Mooring is working closely with officials at the Ministry of Education as they develop provincial health and safety standards.

There is a lot of information in this email and a lot more to come. Please review it carefully and remember that the best source of accurate information is the Federation and your local teachers’ association. It’s best if members avoid the speculation and rumours that circulate on social media.

As always, thank you for your hard work, your creativity, and your commitment to your students. We realize how hard you are working right now to support your students through emergency remote learning in very difficult circumstances. Please know that teacher workload is top of mind as we move forward.

Where do things stand with the reopening of schools?
We know members have many questions and concerns. We share those concerns and are working around the clock with our local associations to ensure any expansion of on-site work is safe and takes into account the many variables members are facing. We don’t have all the answers yet and we know the ambiguity can be unsettling. But, we want to assure all teachers that we are representing you and making sure the Ministry and employers make the best decisions possible. That takes time. None of us have ever been in this situation before and no one wants to see BC’s good progress in the fight against the virus move backwards.

There is a lot to consider as we move towards a time when more staff and students are in schools. It’s likely that many members will be back in schools before the end of June in some capacity and on different timelines. For some, that may be without students. For others, it could include small groups. There are many teachers who have been working in schools all along and we have learned from their experiences.

We know workload is an issue and any return to in-school learning cannot increase that workload. Teachers can’t be expected to maintain emergency remote learning at the same time they are working with small groups of students in classrooms. We also know there are many members who have health issues or are taking care of loved ones who do. As Dr. Bonnie Henry has said, those folks need to continue with strong social distancing. We’re pushing to make sure those folks have access to accommodations.

We know that there needs to be more janitors in our schools and better cleaning practices. There needs to be changes to classroom layouts and access to hot water. Schools also have to consider how people arrive and leave safely. Just like grocery stores have one-way lanes and physiotherapists will be allowed to reopen soon with proper safety protocols, our schools need adaptations and strong standards too. There’s a lot of work to do and that’s why there will be no mass reopening of schools before the fall.

Key points from the Premier’s announcement
1. There is no date for the resumption of in-class learning yet. We anticipate more students will be offered in-class instruction before the end of June and expect an announcement to this effect in the coming weeks. The education sector is working together towards the full resumption of in-class instruction, when it is safe, likely at some point in the fall.

2. There are 5,000 children of essential workers and complex learners that have been in school all along with teachers and support staff. It has been safe and done under the guidance of health officials. In the weeks to come, not immediately, there will be a slow expansion of in-school instruction. The Premier stated it would be voluntary for students for what is left of the current school year.

3. The planning and details are still in the works and folks need to be patient. The BCTF and our locals will be part of that process and working hard on teachers’ behalf. School districts are encouraging, and in some cases expecting, more teachers to be in schools over the coming weeks. At this point, the return is without students. The BCTF is working directly with government on provincial health and safety standards for districts.

4. Safety is the top priority. No one wants to set BC’s progress on containing the spread of the virus back. The Premier said during his announcement, “we will not move ahead unless it is safe to do so.” There is no reason to doubt that.

What is the difference between BC’s “phases” and the K–12 “stages”?
When it comes to how the province as a whole “reopens” the economy and various sectors, BC is using the term “phases.” BC has been in Phase 1 for many weeks now. The goal is to move to Phase 2 within the next two weeks. That means allowing small social gatherings and the reopening of some businesses and services with appropriate health and safety adaptations. Learn more about the province’s broad “phases” here.

For the K–12 education system, the Ministry of Education is using the term “stages.” These stages are goals with no hard dates. Again, there is a lot of work left to do and folks should avoid making any assumptions about when the sector will move from stage to stage. There will be no movement between stages unless public health officials agree that it is safe to do so. Any return to in-class instruction for students will be voluntary in Stage 3.
What’s next?
An announcement on the staged approach to resuming some in-class instruction will be made in the coming weeks, but there is a lot of work to do before that happens. It will not be a return to normal and all of the education partners understand that they cannot just flip a switch. With only weeks left in the school year, it’s likely that many students will not return to the classroom until the fall. The resumption of in-class learning for some students is a part of the overall phased plan to restart BC, as the Premier described in the announcement this week. That’s why the BCTF, CUPE, the Ministry of Education, and other education sector partners are working hard on a set of provincial health and safety standards to support teachers and staff who do return before the summer.

Thank you so much for all you are doing to support your students during this incredibly uncertain and difficult time in our history. You are spending so many hours connecting with students and providing them a sense of some normalcy. Your work matters and is critical right now to the social fabric of BC. We know teachers and schools are the heart of our communities across the province, you continue to provide this stability remotely. You care deeply about your students and that is evident in everything you are doing and all the hours you are spending making these important connections. Students and families are so appreciative of all your time and energy, and so are we.

We know you still have questions and concerns. The BCTF and our locals have your backs and will continue to work hard throughout this pandemic to ensure your safety is a top priority in all the decision making

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