Student safety concerns prompt teachers’ labour board application

Pandemic safety measures called “inconsistent and inadequate”

The BC Teachers Federation has applied to the province’s Labour Relations Board (LRB) to ensure schools are safe places for both staff and students.

In the September 17 application, the federation said members “have significant concerns about the inconsistent and inadequate implementation of government-mandated health and safety measures which do not meet the protections promised in the spring and summer.”

In a September 14 letter to Minister of Education Rob Fleming, federation president Teri Mooring said “anxiety, fear, and stress now significantly outweigh the excitement” of the return to school.

That, she said is a result of, “needless uncertainties and inconsistencies created by your Ministry’s lack of clear direction on fundamental health and safety issues and on equity of learning opportunities.

Mooring said the ministry failed to issue clear directives and left crucial decision-making to individual school districts resulting in

“ As a result, we see vastly different policies and practices across the province, resulting in significant inequities for students and staff,” Mooring said. “This is causing confusion, stress, and a downward slide in working and learning conditions.”

Fleming said September 3 that  decisions on what to do with a $242.4 million federal back-to-school package would be left largely to the province’s 60 school districts.

Fleming was to skim $24.2 million from the federal package for a rainy day reserve to respond to unforeseen, perhaps localized, COVID-19 needs during the school year, but leave the rest for districts and independent schools, based on their student enrolment.

“This funding will be used in different ways by different school districts based on what their priorities are for additional resources for COVID safety,” Fleming said at the time.

Premier John Horgan said last month that Victoria is watching how COVID-19 evolves and could change course if needed.

“I want parents to know we would not be putting their children at risk if there was an overwhelming risk,” Horgan said.

Mooring called for consistent measures provincewide, including directing all school districts to:

• provide every BCTF member a face shield;

• offer a remote learning option that is available to all students, and;

• provide dedicated staffing for remote option learning programs, rather than adding this work to the existing workload of classroom teachers.

“Without ensuring these consistent measures, our members are feeling pressured to work in unsafe conditions. This exploits their professionalism as teachers, their high expectations of themselves and their caring for students.”

Mooring said since late July, the federation has, “been clear that physical distancing would not be possible in your restart plan. Now we have thousands of teachers in crowded classrooms with up to 30 students or more. You need to take more decisive action to ensure school districts spend the $242 million in federal money to enhance student and teacher safety by providing equitable remote options and reducing school and class density.”

She called them measures critical to increasing student safety.

In a publicly released September 17 letter to federation members, Mooring said the LRB application utilizes a Labour Relations Code provision it hopes would compel Victoria to address what the federation sees as communication, process, and health and safety problems in the restart plan.

The ministry was not immediately available for comment.

- More to come.



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