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BC teachers seek public support for ‘more than physical distancing’

BCTF concerned about exposure for families of students, teachers and staff

Saturday August 22, 2020 ~ ISLAND & MAINLAND BC [updated Sunday August 23, 2020]

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

Teachers in BC are reminding the provincial government that ‘we all have families to go home to’.

They are pointing out the starkly obvious flaw in the BC Ministry of Education’s Return to School plan which claims to be a good plan because it offers guidelines for physical distancing and sanitization.

But schools are not a separate function from the rest of society. Every student, teacher and staff person who would come to school in September (the Restart is mandatory) is an extension of their already existing social isolation bubbles at home. It is simply impossible to not have crossover between bubbles and all the potential tranmission of COVID-19 that could potentially occur.

Indeed, Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry has already said that outbreaks in schools are expected, and will be dealt with.

Movement in schools is ultimately unmanageable:

Under the current Return to School plan — even with the defined sizes of learning groups (cohorts) — many thousands of students, teachers and staff will be back together all at once in September. They will be in buildings that — regardless of some open windows and areas such as hallways regulated for crowd size — will be relatively closed spaces, with relatively close proximity among everyone. People won’t be in static spots all day. The movement of people in schools is impossible to script.

Return to School, K-12, September 2020

K-12 Schools will be in Stage 2 for back to school in September 2020 [BC Ministry of Education] | RETURN TO SCHOOL PLAN (August 21, 2020)

To most people who have thought this through, it seems thoroughly counter-intuitive to ask and expect people to obediently pack themselves into shared space when until now the COVID-related public health advice has been to avoid such arrangements.

Averting trauma by revising the plan:

petition, return to school, COVID
Online petition by a parent in the Vancouver area questions the safety of BC’s Return to School plan during COVID-19 has generated a lot of interest and support.

The trauma it will generate among youth, parents, extended families, teacher and their families, and staff and their families by being mandated into a scenario almost certainly to promote COVID spread will be great.

Whose children, whose family, will be made sacrificial to the rigid desire to ensure educational programming on schedule? Education is paramount for a civilized society, but in a pandemic where transmission is not fully understood yet (especially when it comes to kids) perhaps it’s that very education (as seen through critical thinking) that will come to the rescue and put this dogged desire for a September restart on pause.

Over the long-term the short-term pain of yet again revising the Return to School will very likely be worth it. Making attendance not mandatory and having a stable and robust remote learning program in place are the two big steps that so far the Ministry of Education has not been willing to take.

Concerns from all angles:

Articulation of these concerns is coming from all angles — parents (including a petition with over 35,000 signatures), teachers (including a petition launched in the last day by the BCTF), community (on social media with #bced, #returntoschool, etc) and professional news media (in their questions to government and public health, and editorials).

The Island Social Trends analysis is that postponing the 2020-2021 return to school (in the present Stage 2 in-classroom mandatory format) is the lesser of two evils. It will be worse to herd students and teachers back into close-proximity spaces than to await a full remote-learning program for use during the pandemic; the trauma to students, teachers and the essentially enforced impact of COVID-19 exposure to their families will have long-term impacts much worse than a few uncertain months of schooling.

Teacher’s petition includes automated letter to MLAs:

The BCTF “Building Safer Schools” petition calls for “a safer return to school”, saying that “BC needs to do more to ensure physical distancing is possible in our schools to help protect everyone from COVID-19”.

Anyone who completes the petition and includes their postal code will have their signature automatically sent to the MLA for their area, with this letter:

  • “BC’s teachers are asking the provincial government to do more to ensure everyone going back to school in September is safe and protected from COVID-19. As an MLA, you have a critical role to play. The current plan needs more work and the start of school is just around the corner. Fixing the K–12 restart plan is possible, if MLAs like yourself take action now.
  • Since the pandemic started, British Columbians have been told that physical distancing is the most effective and important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We all need to do our part. However, the K–12 restart plan doesn’t change class sizes or density in our schools. Nowhere else are we asking up to 30 or more people to be in a room together, for extended periods of time, where physical distancing isn’t possible.
  • Teachers, school staff, and students all have families to go home to. We need to do more to protect everyone in our schools and the loved ones that are already in their bubbles. That’s why I’m asking you to help BC teachers get some important changes to the restart plan. We’ll all be better off!
  • We need: Smaller class sizes and reduced school density to allow for physical distancing. | Stronger mask regulations for when physical distancing isn’t possible. | Options for remote learning for students who need it. | Funding to improve cleaning and ventilation.
  • Please add your voice as an MLA to the growing chorus of concerned teachers, support staff, parents, caregivers, and students. Speak out and help get our schools the resources they need to make these important changes.”

Awaiting a vaccine:

COVID-19 research
Research for treatments and a vaccine against COVID-19 are underway around the world.

All public health directives about physical distancing, sanitizing, staying home if feeling unwell and maintain social bubbles will be in place across Canada until there is an effective treatment or a vaccine.

Best estimates by public health and governments is that ‘living with COVID’ will continue at least through 2021 while science works hard on developing a vaccine (and then governments doing their part to ensure manufacture, distribution and administration of doses).

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===== About the writer:

Mary Brooke, editor, West Shore Voice News
Mary Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends

The mother of four grown children who attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD72, Island Social Trends editor Mary P Brooke has been covering education politics up close on the west shore since 2014.