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  • Tracy Sherlock

'Troubleshooter' will help resolve safety issues in schools

The BCTF's Teri Mooring said in a letter to members that a new LRB ruling is significant. (Photo: BCTF)

Health and safety issues in schools will be addressed by a new “troubleshooter,” a person appointed by the Labour Relations Board.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation applied to the Labour Board back in September, saying schools were unsafe.

Labour Relations Board Chair Jacquie de Aguayo provided written recommendations, which include giving the provincial steering committee overseeing the schools plan a heads up when changes occur and a chance to provide input, even when the changes are considered urgent.

The Ministry of Education will also appoint a coordinator to review school districts’ plans and to work with various authorities to ensure clarity and consistency in the application of safety guidelines, de Aguayo recommends.

BCTF president Teri Mooring said the ruling is a significant achievement.

“While it does not address our concerns around the need for a broader mask policy, reduced classroom density to facilitate physical distancing, and other preventative measures, it will serve to support our efforts to enforce the health and safety guidelines that are in place,” Mooring said in a letter to members.

Mooring also noted that BCTF met with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in October for one hour, and is pushing other agencies, such as WorkSafe BC and the Representative for Children and Youth, for improved safety in schools.

The Labour Board recommendations do not address the use of masks in schools. The BCTF would like to see a broader mask mandate. The American Centres for Disease Control now says wearing a mask protects both the wearer and others. Asymptomatic and presymptomatic people are believed to spread more than 50 per cent of covid-19 cases, the CDC says. A lot of parents have also asked for masks to be mandatory in schools, an argument that seems to make sense.

Mooring, in her letter to teachers, says many schools now have full mask policies.

“You have a lot of experience creating norms. You know how to take charge of your own classroom. You can't force students to wear masks, but you can model mask wearing and normalize it,” Mooring says.

On Monday, Premier John Horgan said he was looking forward to hearing from the Labour Relations Board about a new way to resolve covid-19 problems in schools.

De Aguayo gave teachers and their employer credit for wanting to create a problem-solving framework to address the challenges of covid-19 in schools, although many of the issues raised were beyond the scope of Labour Relations.

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