BC teachers call for smaller classes and stricter mask mandate

When the government first announced their K–12 restart plan on July 29, the BC Teachers’ Federation expressed significant concerns that the plan needed more work. Since that time, the Federation’s leadership and 25 classroom teachers have been working hard with the government’s steering committee and working groups to make the plan better. BCTF President Teri Mooring said some good steps, like adding time at the beginning of the school year for teachers and staff teams to prepare, have been taken. However, some of teachers’ biggest concerns have yet to be addressed. 

“BC teachers fully support the ongoing efforts of all the education partner groups to get students back to learning as soon as possible,” said Mooring. “In an ideal situation, back to learning would mean all schools are safe for 100% of students, teachers, and support staff to return all at once. 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 government and the office of the Provincial Health Officer have done excellent work on enhancing contact tracing strategies, but our members are rightly concerned that not enough has been done on preventing the transmission of the virus in schools. BC should be pursuing a remote learning model that would allow for in-class and remote learning, especially for medically complex children. It’s important that this option maintains students’ connection to their local school.

“Right across this province, new timetables are being developed that will see teachers and support staff in classrooms with up to 30 students or more without physical barriers, capacity limits, or face coverings that we have all grown accustomed to in other workplaces like the grocery store, dental office, or restaurant. Physical distancing is not possible in these classrooms. The situation will be particularly worrisome in BC’s largest and fastest growing districts that have hundreds of portables. Many BC schools also have outdated ventilation systems and thousands of students will be in classrooms without external windows. 

“All along, British Columbians have been told that physical distancing is the most effective and important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and teachers are determined to do their part. However, the K–12 restart plan, even with the learning group concept, has made no change to classroom density. You can’t have a group of thirty 17-year-olds in a typical classroom for hours and maintain physical distancing for them or their teacher. It’s just not possible. BC needs to reduce classroom density and mandate mask use whenever appropriate physical distancing isn’t possible. That includes our workspaces like classrooms, labs, and libraries—not just common spaces like hallways. BC teachers are workers, just like any other profession in this province, and they need to be safe. 

“The government’s learning groups concept will work for contact tracing, but the plan doesn’t include adequate preventative measures within the learning groups. BC teachers, and the families they go home to, need more protection.”

Here are the key health and safety concerns the BC Teachers’ Federation is asking the government to implement. 

  • Classroom density reduced to allow for physical distancing.
  • An option for remote learning, especially for medically complex children or those who have a medically compromised close family member, that allows the child to remain connected to their school with access to the full range of supports and services.
  • Dedicated funding for improvements to school ventilation and HVAC systems to ensure worksites meet or exceed COVID-19 requirements.
  • All adults and students 10 years and older be required to wear face masks when physical distancing is not possible, as long as there is not a medical condition that prevents usage.
  • Schools and worksites retrofitted with physical barriers for safety, where physical distancing is not possible.
  • Additional funding to ensure custodial cleaning of high touch surface areas are completed twice during the day, in addition to regular cleanings.
  • Accommodations for teachers who are immunocompromised or have chronic health conditions.

“BC teachers want to get back into our classrooms and help give our students the best education possible,” said Mooring. “And, like every other worker in this province, we have a right to be safe. The government’s K–12 restart plan still needs more prevention measures to ensure teachers, students, and their families are as safe as they can be.”