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Teachers have concerns about returning to school, but not expecting many students

Last Updated May 25, 2020 at 2:55 pm PDT

FILE - A vacant desks are pictured at the front of a empty classroom is pictured at Magee Secondary school in Vancouver on Sept. 5, 2014. School districts in British Columbia are scrambling to hire an unprecedented number of teachers ahead of the new school year to adhere to reinstated class size standards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. Teachers Federation members are worried about sanitation, social-distancing for students

Surrey Teachers Association wants masks made available for students, staff

Surrey teachers also wonder who will clean elementary classes during day

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C. teachers have some safety concerns about students returning to school next week, but the union representing them isn’t expecting full classrooms.

Some teachers in Surrey, however, might not feel safe enough to return themselves.

B.C. Teachers Federation President Teri Mooring said members are worried about sanitation and social-distancing for students, but not as much about keeping them apart.

She noted the union doesn’t expect a majority of students to come back before September.

“We look to other jurisdictions to see about how many students have shown up in others place, and it tends to be around the 30- to 40-per-cent range,” she added.

“Government also has some oversight on these plans, but there’s a big difference between the planning phase and the implementation phase, and we’re fully expecting that school districts will implement and continue to comply with the standards that are being set provincially.”

Mooring said some members are skeptical that schools will be ready by June 1.

“And that’s absolutely understandable because we have had more than 16 years of underfunding in B.C. in our public schools,” she said, “and that has really led to a decline in the cleanliness level of schools.”

RELATED: Schools in B.C. will resume part-time on June 1

Matt Westphal, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said members in his district have multiple concerns about going back into classrooms.

One is whether cleaning classrooms twice a day is enough, as outlined by the district.

Westphal suggested more caretakers are needed, especially during the day at elementary schools, to clean high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches and keyboards, and questions whether teachers will be responsible for that instead.

He added the union also thinks non-medical masks or face-coverings should be provided by the district to those who want them.

Furthermore, he said some teachers, such as those with health issues, might not feel safe enough to return to classrooms and would rather continue to work remotely.

If that isn’t an option, though, Westphal said some would rather seek medical accommodations, or even resign or retire.

“That’s an individual decision some might make,” he said of teachers not returning to classrooms.

“There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty,” he added.

Elementary schools will only be permitted to have 50 per cent total enrolment on a given day, twice a week.

Surrey superintendent Jorden Tinney says in a video message to parents that virtual learning remains the main program for schools.

“Students will only be in school for small blocks at a time, so at-home learning is here to stay for June,” he adds.

The B.C. government is giving parents the option of sending their children back to classes part-time next week to finish out the final month of school.

The premier has called it a dry run as the province prepares for the fall.

Meanwhile, the 61,000 Grade 12 graduates in B.C. will be the guests of honour at a special virtual graduation and end-of-school celebration on Tuesday. It will air at 10 a.m. on WE’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“I know this is not how graduates expected to celebrate their achievements, but that doesn’t diminish the occasion,” Premier John Horgan says in a release.

“Their parents, teachers, and all British Columbians are proud of them. After they leave school, the whole world is there for them to explore. It will be a smaller world at first, but it will grow,” he added.

“Congratulations to the class of 2020.”