Updated: BCTF calls for 'authentic' consultation on back-to-school plan

The BC Teachers Federation was quick to criticize the Ministry of Education’s plan to have students return full-time to classrooms in September.

Schools are scheduled to re-open on Sept. 8 and students will be organized into “learning groups” of 60 students in elementary schools and 120 in secondary schools – as announced by the ministry on Wednesday. Most students are expected to be back in the classroom.

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As the ministry was making its announcement, the BCTF put out press release asking for “authentic” consultation and collaboration between school districts and local unions, testing health and safety measures in schools, time for teachers to plan and prepare in September and smaller classrooms.

In a letter to BCTF members, president Teri Mooring said its executive committee passed a motion opposing the restart plan and is saying it wants on the provincial government to delay opening “until appropriate health and safety provisions are determined and funded, and authentic consultation and collaboration has taken place.”

Mooring states in her letter to BCTF members that teachers should have paid time in September to “plan, prepare, and undertake the necessary in-service training and health and safety orientations that will enable equitable learning conditions and safe workplaces.”

“The (BCTF) does not believe that the first day back for students should be immediately after the Labour Day long weekend,” she added.

Wednesday’s announcement was made by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who emphasized the need for students to get back to school for learning as well as for their social and emotional well-being.

The learning groups, or bubbles, will allow for limited contacts and better contact tracing if anyone contracts COVID-19.

“School is going to look and feel different,” said Henry during Wednesday’s announcement.

The province also announced $45 million in funding to help school districts and independent schools at the start of the year to increase hand-hygiene stations, for masks and for other safety measures.

Masks will not be mandatory at schools — Education Minister Rob Fleming called it a “personal choice” — but they will be recommended in certain circumstances.

The ministry is developing operational guidelines to help school districts and independent schools plan for September.

A steering committee including teachers, parents, Indigenous rightsholders, support staff, principals and vice-principals, school trustees and public health has been established to identify best practices and find solutions to potential issues.

“B.C. will continue to keep a strong focus on science-based decisions as we learn to adjust the delivery of education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stephanie Higginson, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association.

Richmond parent Karina Reid, whose children attend Homma elementary, said it was a “relief” to hear about the plan.

“Having students in a cohort gives me a little bit more peace of mind,” Reid said.

She is planning to study full-time herself in September and knowing her kids will be in school will make that possible without having to drop any classes, she added.

Board chair Ken Hamaguchi said the school district is expecting more information around Aug. 8 from the ministry so they can start planning the fall.

All school district are required to have information on their websites by Aug. 26 — the Richmond School District website can be found at www.SD38.bc.ca.

The Richmond Board of Education added $1.5 million to the school district’s 2020/21 budget for extra cleaning measures.

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