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Teachers, parents protest B.C. back-to-school plan

Last Updated Sep 1, 2020 at 12:07 pm PDT

Lisa Descary, a teacher in Richmond, says there are some serious holes in the plan, which doesn’t address safety concerns for students and teachers. Saturday, Aug. 29. (Courtesy Ashley Grace Burr @AshleyBurr_)
Summary

A group of parents and educators are protesting outside Queen Alexandra Elementary Saturday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m

The group is asking the province to rethink its back-to-school plans

They say the government is forcing them back into unsafe schools with vague provincial guidelines

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A group of teachers and parents will rally Saturday afternoon demanding the province rethink its back-to-school plans.

Lisa Descary, a teacher in Richmond, says there are some serious holes in the plan, which doesn’t address safety concerns for students and teachers.

“A lot of teachers were on these committees … this summer, giving input,” said Descary. “And then all of a sudden the plan came out. It did not match what they had been told and it ignored a lot of the input that they had given. And we really felt that it was kind of a slap in the face and it was a shock.”

Descary explains demands include safe options for all students, including a hybrid model that prevents students from losing their spot in school, smaller class sizes, access to personal protective equipment and paid sick days for parents and teachers if there is an outbreak.

On Friday, the Vancouver School Board said it would be creating another option for elementary school students in September. In response to a survey – where more than 21,000 parents responded – the VSB created the “Learn from Home Transition” option, which will allow for a delayed return to the classroom.

The Richmond School District says in an email to NEWS 1130 that its restart plan “does address the safety of students and teachers,” and that the health and safety of students, staff, and parents is top of mind.

“The Richmond School District’s Restart Plan has been approved by the Ministry of Education and is guided by the requirements of the Provincial Health Officer. The district’s plan will help ensure a safe return to in-person instruction for students and staff,” the district’s website reads.

While Descary acknowledges some school districts have made adjustments, she says some school districts don’t have the same opportunities.

“It’s different all over because (Education Minister) Rob Fleming is sort of passing things off to school districts, without really enough funding to make what needs to happen, happen,” she claims. “They’re all scrambling to try and do what’s right with limited money.”

Earlier this week B.C. approved back-to-school plans for all 60 school districts which can be found on each districts’ website.

The education ministry said the details of each plan vary because of the differences in space, scheduling, staff collective agreements and public feedback.

Descary adds “there’s a lot of inequity” in the province’s plan, saying schools in lower-income neighbourhoods have not been fully addressed.

“Low-income parents can’t stay home with their sick kids, and you ask any teacher normally, sick kids get sent to school all the time,” she said. “I don’t want to blame parents who can’t afford to stay home with their kids.

“So it’s going to be the most vulnerable that are most impacted. They’re also the ones in the schools that don’t have proper ventilation. They’re the ones in schools where the windows have been painted shut.”

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Descary adds the group will rally from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. outside Vancouver’s Queen Alexandra Elementary, which hosts a large portion of students who come from low-income homes to highlight a school that would be impacted by the province’s plan.

Students in B.C. are expected to return to class on Sept. 10. The start of the school year was delayed by two days so “staff have a couple of days” before coming back, Fleming announced earlier this month.

But Descary says two extra days to prepare is not enough.

“Every day we’re seeing the number of COVID cases go up. And if that continues to happen, I don’t think they can keep the plan the way it is. I think they need to start realizing, listening to families and to teachers, that you know the way the plan is set up now isn’t safe, even with the COVID levels we have now.”

– With files from Lisa Steacy and Kareem Gouda

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comments from the Richmond School District.