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BCTF urges province to slow down on return to classrooms

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Aug 27, 2020 at 10:53 am PDT

Summary

B.C. teachers want smaller class sizes and reduced school density to allow for physical distancing

The Education Ministry released its finalized school restart plan on Wednesday

B.C. Liberals say province is downloading the majority of responsibility onto districts to safely reopen schools

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The BC Teachers’ Federation wants the province to slow down and make more changes, such as smaller class sizes, to its back-to-school plan.

“We need to do all we can to keep teachers, support staff, students, and families safe,” BCTF President Teri Mooring said.

“That’s why I was hoping the government wouldn’t rush another announcement out the door, but take the time to improve the restart plan. I know the federal government’s funding announcement was unexpected, but we should see it as a huge opportunity to work together and get things right. The train has not left the station, school has not started. There is more than enough time to use the new $242 million in federal funding to improve the safety of our schools and classrooms.”

The Education Ministry released its finalized school restart plan on Wednesday, with the goal to maximize in-class instruction, while still keeping students, teachers, and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in the day, the federal government announced B.C. will receive $242 million to support a safe return to school for all.

Mooring applauded the province’s efforts to get federal funding, but said the restart plan is being rushed and doesn’t address several safety concerns.

“As teachers, we all want to welcome our students to class and get back to in-person teaching,” she added.

“The pandemic, however, has changed everything and it’s not going away. We need to do things differently and that starts with making sure staff and students can actually achieve physical distancing in our schools and classrooms. Under the government’s current plan, that physical distancing just isn’t possible.”

The BCTF started a campaign five days ago, encouraging members and parents to ask their respective MLAs for help improving the back-to-school plan. Since it started, the BCTF claims more than 18,000 emails have been sent to MLAs.

The BCTF is calling for:

  • smaller class sizes and reduced school density to allow for physical distancing.
  • stronger mask regulations for when physical distancing isn’t possible.
  • options for remote learning for students who need it.
  • and funding to improve cleaning and ventilation.

The school restart plan suggests limiting learning groups to 60 in elementary and middle schools and 120 at the secondary level, as well as daily health self-assessments, outdoor and online learning opportunities to aid in physical distancing, and visual cues for traffic in places such as hallways.

Plastic barriers will be added in other places, such as libraries and front desks.

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The plan aims to keep cohort groups as small as possible — 30 in one single block for grades 10, 11 and 12.

It also requires masks be worn by staff, as well as middle and secondary students in high-traffic areas and inside classrooms with limited space.

The BCTF says more needs to be done to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson also criticized the province’s school restart plan.

“B.C. parents and teachers are facing stress and anxiety right now. Families deserve a plan that offers them the resources and flexibility to meet their own unique needs,” he says in a tweet.

Dan Davies, the Liberal education critic, said the province is downloading the majority of responsibility onto districts to safely reopen schools.

“Principals are now being directed by the minister to contact all parents as enhanced enrolment. By placing the onus on school districts to arrange learning plans, as well as health and safety measures, the NDP has abandoned parents while creating massive disparities between school districts in terms of capacity and funding, which will severely harm the learning outcomes of countless students,” he says.

“The NDP government’s current plan fails families and teachers by forcing students back into classrooms without appropriate hybrid and distance learning resources options being made available. Parents expected clarity today and instead are now left frustrated, anxious, and with more questions than answers.”