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Surrey teachers warn of staff shortages due to COVID-19

Last Updated Oct 28, 2020 at 5:31 pm PST

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Summary

A third of all worksites in the school district has recorded at least one COVID-19 exposure: teachers' association

Teachers have also expressed an interest in playing a more active role when it comes to contact tracing: STA

Teachers would also like to see less density in schools

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — The Surrey Teachers’ Association is warning to expect staffing shortages at district schools due to COVID-19 to get even worse.

About a third of all worksites in the school district have recorded at least one COVID-19 exposure, according to Julia MacRae, first vice-president of the teachers’ association.

“People are very concerned about their own risk, their own family. They see one rule being laid down for retail and public areas and indoor spaces, then sort of a different rule for schools,” she added.

“Some of it is explained to us as kids are less vulnerable to a severe outbreak of the disease, for whatever epidemiological reason. We’re not health professionals, so that is explained to us. But still, there are a lot of adults in schools — in a large school there are 100 adults working or more,” MacRae said.

“Teachers kind of feel that, in a way, they’re more vulnerable than some other work sectors and are concerned about that.”

MacRae explained that if a teacher is away sick and one cannot be found to replace them, others in a school have to fill in.

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“If they’re a special ed teacher and providing services to kids who need special help, they might be called off that work to teach Grade 5 that day,” she said.

MacRae also said most teachers in the district support making masks mandatory.

“Particularly in secondary [schools]. I’ll tell you the kids wear masks in secondary, but it is problematic when it’s not required. Then how does a teacher enforce it? They can’t.”

MacRae added teachers have also expressed an interest in playing a more active role when it comes to contact tracing because that’s taking too long with young students who have short memories.

MacRae said interviews with contact tracers may take place 10 days after the possible exposure.

“And so the child can’t remember who they sat near, which teacher came into the room,” she added.

“We don’t think that they’re necessarily reliable epidemiological narrators, so we would like the teachers to be more involved as par for the course, in terms of saying who sits near where, what the seating plan what was,” MacRae said. “They’ll have it noted in their day book. And so that would be that would make sense to us, and that is not happening regularly, as far as we know.”

Teachers call for less density

Teachers would also like to see less density in schools and, according to MacRae, suggest more online learning.

“Some education staff could also do more work remotely,” she said. “And that is not in place at the moment.”

Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, agrees hiring more teachers is a simple way to make schools safer.

“Additional teachers should also be hired in order to reduce classroom density,” she says, adding it could reduce substitutes going to several schools and increase remote learning options.

“We are aware that parents are being pressured into sending their students – their children – back to school. When teachers could be hired in order to provide that service.”

Mooring also argues with the provincial election, districts aren’t getting the government direction they needed.

“I’m concerned about that, and have been concerned about that all along. And [I’m] very frustrated that we’ve been in this holding pattern as the election played out, and we anticipate that it’s going to be a while yet before the government is sworn in and active,” Mooring says.