Burnaby – The President of the BC Teacher’s Federation, Teri Mooring, took to Facebook on Friday to post some thoughts and address fear and other issues about the re-opening of BC Schools. That will start Monday June 1:
With schools set to reopen to more students on June 1, I know many of you have concerns about health and safety and your rights as a worker. The BCTF and our local associations across the province have been working extremely hard to ensure school districts have done what they need to do to ensure schools are safe for teachers, support staff, and students.
Throughout this entire process, the BCTF has pushed for high standards of health and safety and were successful in getting the government to establish provincial standards to reopen, not district by district. Ultimately, the decision to reopen was made by the provincial government with the approval and guidance of Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Public Health Officer. The BCTF is continuing to ensure your concerns are heard and to advocate for changes to be made where necessary.
The government officials involved are working to review and approve each district’s health and safety plan. Both the Premier and Dr. Henry have publicly stated that they would not be moving forward if they didn’t believe it was safe to do so. However, I know many of you are still concerned. That’s understandable and I want you to know that you should report anything that is unsafe in your schools to your school-based Health and Safety Representative, Staff Representative, or local union office.
The responsibility for maintaining the high health and safety standards rests with your school district, but the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee has a critical oversight role. Your union is represented on that committee.
The Federation has been meeting three times a week with all of our Local Presidents and then directly relaying concerns or problems to government. We have also provided opportunities for our health and safety representatives to get briefings and share information. Your union is here to support you.
We have also been working very hard to ensure members with underlying health issues are kept safe. Our locals are working on accommodations for those members with the school districts. It was good to hear the Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, say publicly this week that the law is clear on accommodations and he expects districts to work with our locals to ensure they are granted where there is appropriate medical documentation.
Many members are also concerned about the balance between remote learning and in-class instruction. You cannot and are not expected to do both at the same time. This may mean a significant reduction of remote learning for students who do not return to school. It’s important that school districts communicate this information clearly to families. We all need to look after ourselves during this stressful time, this includes not increasing our workloads. Government has also publicly stated that districts need to work with local unions to ensure workload is not increased. If you have concerns be sure to contact your local union.
I know many teachers are still skeptical, after years of underfunding and cuts to custodial staff, that schools will be properly cleaned. They must be. That is part of the mandatory provincial standards. So again, if you see something that concerns you, let your staff rep or health and safety rep know.
For more information, you can listen to the BCTF’s telephone town halls from May 20 and 21 on the front page of the BCTF member portal.There is additional information on our Health and Safety web page.
Please also remember that as a BCTF member you have free access to Starling Minds, an online mental wellness tool. It is a confidential Cognitive Behaviour Therapy program specifically designed for teachers. It helps you assess, monitor, and improve your mental fitness in the privacy of your home. This is a time of high anxiety and stress for everyone. In addition, many teachers are reporting feelings of guilt for not being able to support students the way they normally would. This is all normal and you are not alone. You can only do so much and taking care of yourself and your loved ones is the most important thing you can do as we all readjust to yet another phase of this pandemic.
Thank you for everything you are doing every single day to help each other and your students. The support we provide has been critical not only to our students, their families, but also to our communities.
Please take care and be safe.