The union representing teachers in Kootenay Columbia School District 20 (SD20) thinks the district’s COVID-19 back-to-school plan has room for improvement.
“Our BCTF and KCTU position is that the current plans are flawed and can easily be deconstructed and are ‘containment’ and not ‘protection’ plans and are focused on contact tracing and not our or our student’s health and safety, particularly when groups over 50 in our communities can be fined but schools can be stacked with up to 120 ‘bubbles’,” said the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union (KCTU) in a statement.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Union (BCTF) represents 45,000 public school teachers in the province of British Columbia. All public school teachers belong to the BCTF and their local teachers’ association, which locally, is the KCTU.
The federation and union are taking issue with a number of points, but the bottom line is they want to see fewer kids in each class and fewer kids in each school.
KCTU president Andy Davidoff believes that the recent infusion of federal education funding should be directed towards making that happen.
“We want the $242 million in federal funding to be directed to reducing class size and density and that includes remote learning options,” said Davidoff.
KCTU would ideally like to see classes and schools at 50 per cent capacity.
The absence of distance learning options is another source of contention between the union and the school district.
Currently the only option the district is offering is in-person classes.
KCTU would like to see more options, especially for families who have health concerns either for their children or other family members.
The union says it would also benefit teachers who have not been cleared by their doctors to return to in-person work due to their own health concerns, but could still teach remotely.
“The education minister has authorized all districts to offer remote learning,” said Davidoff.
Distance learning programs throughout the province are already full and many have waiting lists, leaving SD20 students without that option unless the local district starts to offer a program.
Davidoff sees distance learning as a win-win situation, effectively reducing class sizes and accommodating students and teachers with concerns about attending in person at the same time.
KCTU would also like to see some changes to personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols.
“We have had to fight for PPE,” said Davidoff.
“We have also been fighting for the installation of sinks in classrooms held in portables.”
The union is also lobbying hard to have an “equitable application” of the PPE rules to all grade 6 to grade 12 students in the province without a PPE exemption for grade 6 and 7 students in districts that don’t have middle schools such as SD20.
Under the current plan, grade six and seven students attending high schools have to wear masks, but grade six and seven students attending elementary schools don’t.
KCTU is exploring their right to refuse unsafe work and is looking for strict enforcement of the health and safety guidelines.
“If we see the guidelines are not being enforced, we may refuse unsafe work,” said Davidoff.
Davidoff says the current plan just isn’t good enough.
“It’s not just those in the education sector — when you get 120 or 60, or whatever number of ‘bubbles’ interacting, it also jeopardizes grandfathers, grandmothers, parents and those who are immunocompromised and vulnerable because of their health conditions.,” said Davidoff.
“It impacts all of us.”