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B.C.'s teachers launch labour action against Ministry of Education

Last Updated Sep 18, 2020 at 6:40 am PST

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Summary

President Teri Mooring says an application has been filed with the Labour Relations Board

In a letter to teachers, she says she knows they feel unsafe while doing their jobs

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – “I know you feel unsafe” and “the government is failing.”

Those words are embedded in the first paragraph of a letter sent to teachers Thursday night, from their union.

The head of the BC Teachers’ Federation is outlining how the union has filed an application against the Ministry of Education to the Labour Relations Board.

“The BCTF continues to push every available strategy to address the inequities of working conditions, the haphazard implementation of health and safety measures, and confusing changes in government messages and documents,” says Teri Mooring in the letter.

“It is a rarely used provision that we believe can compel the government into a labour relations process to address our many outstanding concerns,” she continues.

The letter outlines concerns over communication, process, and health and safety problems of the school restart plan.

Mooring says the application seeks to enhance enforcement measures to ensure school districts take all possible actions to keep students and teachers safe. The letter also says more information will be provided to the media Friday.

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Meantime, the union is also reminding teachers to report any unsafe conditions to school administrators and union reps.

This latest development comes as teachers have decided to speak out about what they consider unsafe conditions.

Two teachers spoke with NEWS 1130, on the condition their names wouldn’t be used.

A Surrey secondary school teacher says his reason for going public is primarily to warn parents.

“It’s not the super-safe, sanitized environment that they had portrayed,” he says. “I hope that parents get the whole story, that they understand what it looks like on a day to day basis for their children.”

He describes a school that has multiple challenges, keeping students social distanced and keeping classrooms as disinfected as possible.

“We were told they’re going to disinfect the rooms twice a day. And we figured that meant, you know, once after the kids have gone home and then once in between the two cohorts going in. Unfortunately, either due to the size of some schools, or just the difficulty of the process of disinfecting them in the first place, that’s not happening. So what’s happening is that the morning class finishes, lunchtime starts, and then the afternoon class comes in, and it has not been disinfected, which means there could be contamination between the two.”

Then there are classrooms that are more crowded than usual.

“So in the summertime, we were told to expect Grade 8 would be capped at 24 students. September hit, we head back to our classes, and most of them are closer to 30. A few of the senior classes actually have 33, which puts them over the cap. When you have a pandemic, over-booking a class is not idea especially when you can’t socially distance in the best of cases and kids don’t have to wear masks.”

Moreover, he says the assurances that hand-sanitizing stations would be in every classroom have not materialized. Students were told they had to leave their class to wash their hands at the washroom.

“Washrooms are sometimes a little crowded with students trying to wash their hands. To make it worse, they are mixing between cohorts. Yes, they are told they have to wear their masks, but there aren’t repercussions for students that aren’t.”

And he knows kids will be hanging out with friends on the school grounds who don’t belong in their cohort.

“The big mantra in teaching is whatever you do, it should have the backdrop of what’s best for kids. What I’m seeing does not seem to be the best for kids.”

The teacher’s description of the situation is fairly similar to one provided by another teacher who reached out to NEWS 1130.

She too is a secondary school teacher.

“We have 33 students in a small room. They are centimetres apart,” she describes.

“This is not a normal work situation,” she says, pointing out after a student was yanked out of a class on Thursday, their teacher was informed that the student will need to be tested.

“The teacher is freaking out, so she’s not coming to school tomorrow. I don’t understand how they expect us to teach like this.”

– With files from Nikitha Martins