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  • Tracy Sherlock

Teachers ask education minister for clear directives on online learning

BCTF president Teri Mooring has written a letter to Education Minister Rob Fleming about health and safety in schools and remote learning. (Photo: BCTF)

Many school districts are offering remote learning options, but what is unclear is exactly who is responsible for teaching students who choose those options.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring urged Education Minister Rob Fleming to provide clear direction on both health and safety and equity of learning opportunities.

“Because your Ministry failed to issue clear directives, crucial decisions have been left to the discretion of school districts,” Mooring wrote in her letter. “As a result, we see vastly different policies and practices across the province, resulting in significant inequities for students and staff. This is causing confusion, stress, and a downward slide in working and learning conditions.”

In the letter, Mooring called on Fleming to provide face shields for all teachers, direct all districts to provide remote learning options that is available to all students and direct all school districts to provide dedicated staffing for those online learning options, rather than adding the work to the existing workload of classroom teachers.

“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,” Mooring wrote to Fleming.

The federal government is providing B.C. $242 million to make schools safer in the pandemic and $101.1 million of that will be provided to school districts, Fleming said earlier this month. In Vancouver, about 25 per cent of students chose online learning, while in Surrey about 10 per cent chose that option. He called on districts to provide online options for families, but did not direct the process or say who should be teaching students who choose those options.

“It’s going to look different depending on the needs of each district,” Fleming said at a news conference last week. “Every dollar of the federal funding announced will benefit students in B.C.”

Meanwhile, the first cases of covid-19 in schools have been announced. There have been one positive case at each of a Delta high school, three Surrey high schools and a Surrey elementary school. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in their covid-19 statement today that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website will have reports on outbreaks, clusters or exposures that occur in schools. Fraser Health’s page is already running and shows the Delta and Surrey cases.

Surrey’s superintendent of schools Jordan Tinney said if there is a positive covid-19 case in a school, that person will be interviewed by public health about where they have been, who they have been in close contact with and how they might have become infected. If it turns out they may have been infectious at school, a communications plan will begin. The close contacts of the person who tested positive will be told to self-isolate.

“This starts with each and every one of us,” Tinney says in a video update. He urges students and staff to stay home if they’re sick and to practice good hygiene (wash your hands!) and keep physical distance when they can.

In Alberta, after two weeks of school, about 32 people who attended schools tested positive for covid-19, the Globe and Mail reports. Those positive test results mean many students and staff members who may have been exposed are now self-isolating. The total number is unknown. Some school districts in Ontario pushed back the start of online classes after a surge in demand, the Canadian Press reports.

A teachers’ union representing 49,000 teachers in Quebec is suing the provincial government in that province, claiming that the province is not being transparent about the number of covid-19 cases in schools, the Canadian Press reports. Nearly 250 Quebec schools have reported at least one case of covid-19 since school started in late August, the story says.

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