VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The BC Teachers’ Federation says it is not being consulted about COVID-19-related school safety decisions.
The latest tension stems over the province’s decision to not begin winter break early or extend the break, despite worries COVID-19 will continue to be spread in classrooms come January.
When asked why schools won’t close early or stay closed longer, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters she consulted with many stakeholders and found no rationale for changing the schedule.
“We discussed this with many stakeholders and we’ve decided and made a decision that the downsides of it would be far greater than the safety and the protection of the education and the interaction that’s needed in the schools,” she said Monday.
The BC Teachers' union says it wasn't consulted on whether winter break should be shifted to slow COVID transmission before/after holidays: neither was a new education steering committee created for exactly that purpose (as recommended by the BC Labour Board in Nov) @NEWS1130 https://t.co/GvTkBGQy8R
— Ash 'I work from home now' Kelly (@AshDKelly) December 8, 2020
Henry maintains transmission rates are low. She says there have been few outbreaks but critics say B.C.’s definition of a school outbreak, which only includes transmission between cohorts, isn’t an accurate way to measure the spread.
Henry, however, says schools are a safe place.
“As you know, we have a lot of exposures and we’ve been following very closely what’s going on in schools, and those exposures still reflect — and continue to reflect — transmission in our communities,” she explained.
“But we are not having large numbers of transmission events in schools — those are very small, very few. We’ve had a few outbreaks in schools, but they’ve been limited in number. So schools really are a safe place and an important place for educators and for our students.”
But the BCTF says it was not consulted, nor was a new COVID steering committee made of parents, teachers, and support staff.
“Apparently ‘many’ stakeholders were consulted. Unfortunately the @bctf was not one of them,” BCTF President Teri Mooring writes. “It’s unclear to me why this issue didn’t go to the Ministry steering committee where all the stakeholders are represented. Obviously communication continues to be very problematic.”
That committee was recommended by the BC Labour Board last month after it found major communications breakdowns in relation to COVID-19 safety decisions in schools.
The board also recommended a neutral third-party “trouble-shooter” be hired to make non-binding recommendations when disagreements over COVID-19 health and safety policy arise.
In response to concerns again being raised by the BCTF, the Ministry of Education has issued a statement indicating consultation continues via a provincial steering committee and working groups.
A recently-announced provincial coordinator is expected to help improve guidelines across the education system and “We remain committed to ongoing dialogue with all our education partners as we navigate this pandemic together.”