A cleaner helps clean a classroom at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

UPDATE: B.C. teachers’ union calls for remote learning option, stronger mask mandate

B.C. Teachers’ Federation says class sizes are too large to allow for distancing

The B.C. teacher’s union is calling for remote learning options, smaller class sizes and a stricter mask mandate as schools get ready to reopen next month.

On Wednesday (Aug. 19), the B.C. Teachers’ Federation rolled out a list of concerns about the province’s return-to-school plans. Currently, teachers are set to return on Sept. 8, with students coming two days later. In a statement, Education Minister Rob Fleming said the week of Sept. 8-11 will serve as a welcome week as students, teachers and other staff “adjust to their new routines, find out about their learning groups, and practice safety protocols.”

In a press release, BCTF president Teri Mooring said a recent spike in COVID-19 cases has lead to concerns for teachers, parents and students.

“In an ideal situation, back to learning would mean all schools are safe for 100 per cent of students, teachers, and support staff to return all at once,” Mooring said. “However, the sharp rise in active COVID-19 cases has many people worried that the government has not done enough to ensure teachers, students, and their families are safe.”

The BCTF’s concerns come as British Columbia has seen an increase in novel coronavirus cases in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the province recorded 83 cases, while the weekend saw 236 cases over three days. Friday’s 100 new cases was the second-highest figure recorded throughout the pandemic, and 775 are currently recovering from the virus. The union expressed more confidence in the province’s back-to-school plan prior to details being released.

READ MORE: BCTF president Mooring confident in province’s school plans

The education ministry’s return-to-school plan, created with the help of a steering committee that includes teachers and parents, places students in “learning groups” of 60 to 120, with elementary students getting the smaller end and high school students in the upper range, although many of the details are up to individual school districts. Surrey’s school district has said its cohorts will be “much smaller” than those laid out by the province. All school districts must present their safety and education plans to the province for approval, and release them publicly by Aug. 26.

READ MORE: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan

“For students on our graduation program, again these are grades 10, 11 and 12, our cohort size is 30,” said superintendent Jordan Tinney. “For junior students, those in grades eight and nine, our cohort size is 60. We accomplish this by moving to a system that’s based on longer periods of instruction in 10-week increments.”

READ MORE: Surrey high school cohorts to be ‘much smaller,’ Tinney says

Staff and middle and high school students will be required to wear masks in high traffic areas, including hallways and on school buses, but not in classrooms. Elementary school students do not have to wear masks.

The teachers’ union is asking for the mask mandate to be expanded down to students aged 10 and older when physical distancing is not possible, regardless of what school they attend. Mooring also called for masks in classrooms, labs and libraries, as well as the areas the education ministry has laid out.

READ MORE: B.C. school staff, older students required to wear masks in ‘high traffic areas’

Mooring said a remote learning options should be available for the safety of immunocompromised staff and students, as well as to decrease the number of people in classrooms. In response, Fleming said the education ministery is working on “creative solutions creative solutions to support student choice while keeping students connected to their community school.”

Mooring also called out the lack of physical distancing in classrooms that host up to 30 students, along with teachers and support staff. In a statement, the education ministry said average class sizes are at 18 students for kindergarten (capped at 20), 19.5 for Grades 1 to 3 (cap 22), 23.3 students for Grades 4 to 7, 22.4 students for Grades 8 to 12. Both older groups do not have caps on class sizes.

“Physical distancing is not possible in these classrooms,” Mooring said. The situation will be particularly worrisome in B.C.’s largest and fastest growing districts that have hundreds of portables.”

In addition, the BCTF is calling for physical barriers to be installed where distancing is not possible and dedicated funding to improve ventilation and HVAC systems in schools.

Fleming noted the province is giving school districts $45.6 million enhanced cleaning, hand-washing stations, re-usable masks and other supplies. Schools will also receive 1.5 million masks, enough for each staff and student to have two each.

The BCTF’s representative assembly – made up of 300 teachers from local teachers’ unions – is scheduled to meet virtually on Aug. 28 to discuss any further response from the union.

– With files from Tom Zytaruk/Surrey Now Leader


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

British ColumbiaCoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File Photo
Halloween and history collide in Agassiz this month

The spooky displays at the museum are on now until Halloween

Chilliwack-Kent 2020 provincial election candidates, clockwise from bottom left, Kelli Paddon (NDP), Eli Gagne (Libertarian), Jeff Hammersmark (Green), Jason Lum (Independent), and Laurie Throness, who began the campaign as a BC Liberal but left the party on Oct. 15.
Advance voting nears 5,000 in Chilliwack-Kent

More than 380,000 voters have voted in advance across B.C.

Owen Charpentier, 21, is charged with the Oct. 22, 2019 second-degree murder of Keith Baldwin in Chilliwack. (File)
Pre-trial dates set for Chilliwack man charged with Keith Baldwin’s murder

Owen Dale Charpentier accused in the fourth homicide of 2019 next in court June 2021

The 2020 Rotary Club of Chilliwack Book Sale is moving from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park to allow more room for physically-distanced shopping. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Rotary Book Sale moves from Chilliwack Mall to Heritage Park

The hugely-popular book sale is going ahead Oct. 25-31 with pandemic protocols in place

Organizers of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival have decided to end the event after more than 20 years. / Bob Friesen File Photo
Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival cancelled – for good

Organizers say the event was so popular that too many people were attending to be sustainable

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. sees record-breaking daily COVID infections with 499 new cases over weekend

Two people, both in the Lower Mainland, died due to the virus over the weekend

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Surrey teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Most Read