Monday September 6, 2021 | PROVINCIAL NEWS
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Editor | Island Social Trends
On this Labour Day Monday, the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) set its points in motion regarding the 2021-2022 back-to-school season. Holding a press conference by Zoom this morning, BCTF President Teri Mooring articulated her membership’s key concerns.
Prefacing her key points by thanking all frontline workers who have worked hard, at risk, during the pandemic, and for helping to keep people safe. In schools, this has been about doing their work without adequate health and safety measures in place.
Mooring matter-of-factly stated that there is a “there is a cloud hanging over this year of course”, that teachers had “hoped there would be more preventative measures in place”.
“We had all hoped for a more normal year,” she said, after itemizing how there will be “less protections in place than there were last year”, specifically:
- No cohorts (i.e. defined groups of students & teachers who may gather only among themselves)
- No physical distancing (as in being mandated, though individual classrooms can be managed in that regard)
- No daytime custodians (just in the evenings)
- No exposure notifications (to parents/families & teachers if a COVID case has tested positive)
- No limits to school visitors (incoming persons add an unknown component to the COVID mix)
- No provincial limits on school gatherings (‘easing’ into the school year is preferable, in terms of mass exposure).
It’s almost as if the BC Ministry of Education is trying to force-post a safe ‘new normal’ during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic without providing the parameters and tools to make that possible.
The fourth wave is being driven by the highly-transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus. It likely won’t be until there are more ‘breakthrough cases’ among fully-vaccinated people that a booster (third shot) of the COVID-19 vaccines will be rolled out. That will be well into the Fall/winter of 2021 or early 2022.
Today Mooring says the BCTF wants an expanded mask mandate. Presently only students in Grades 4 to 12 are required to wear masks. BC’s teachers also want the mask mandate to cover for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3.
“There is no clear rationale” for no K-3 masking, said Mooring. She gave an example of a work-around at some schools last year, where parents themselves supported the safety of teachers by having all children wear masks within the school.
Ventilation in schools:
As the COVID-19 virus is airborne (causing disease through respiratory entry to the body, as well as through mucus membranes), the use of ventilation systems in schools is pretty much essential.
In addition to natural ventilation through windows (which is not possible in some schools that are built to operate entirely with internal ventilation systems, or in schools where some classrooms don’t have windows, and in winter when a blast of cold air into classrooms would be uncalled for), there can be mechanical ventilation using HVAC and HEPA filter systems.
BCTF wants to see a “full accounting of where HEPA filters are needed” in schools. Mooring points out “underfunding and deferred maintenance costs” for ventilation systems need to be itemized. Full information would show which schools have ordered equipment and if it’s installed or upgraded yet.
Each of BC’s 60 school districts is responsible for its own budgets and management of resources. Some school districts relied on last year’s one-time federal education COVID-support grant (and perhaps part of the BC provincial health-and-safety COVID-support grant funds) to install or upgrade ventilation systems. But then there’s the ongoing operating budget demands (salaries, parts) for maintenance of those systems over the years ahead.
The BCTF is hoping to see more school-based COVID vaccination clinics in BC schools, making the shots available this fall to all students age 12 to 17.
In the spring and summer, teens could visit local mass immunization clinics on their own or with parents. Mobile clinics (such as the Vax Van operated by Island Health) has been popping up around communities this past summer, to offer first and second doses of COVID vaccines.
Information is empowering:
About the role of information, this coming from an education professional: “by limiting information you’re causing more anxiety”. In making this statement, Mooring was capturing the reason for concern over COVID-exposure letters not going home to families in this school year (as announced by Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry in a short-notice media session just ahead of the Labour Day long weekend).
No letters home from BC Health (BC Centre for Disease Control / health authorities) means there is incomplete data and awareness within a community about itself. She feels that more is better than less, when it comes to COVID information about one’s own surroundings, especially when it comes to children, their families, and their teachers.
Urging teachers to get vaccinated:
“If there are teachers not vaccinated, they need to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” was Mooring’s definitive statement on that today.
“We think there is a high level of teachers already vaccinated,” she said, adding there’s been a lot of awareness-building.
Currently vaccination in BC does not require registration (any of the mass immunization clinics, or at mobile or pop-up clinics).
However, this coming week there will be information released by BC Health as to sign up for the Proof of Vaccination card that will be required for access to most public places. As of September 13 a first-dose is required, and then two doses required by October 24, 2021 in order to access some events, services and businesses.
Taking it slow:
The BCTF is worried about big assemblies and big staff meetings, so soon right away in the Fall 2021 school season, said Mooring. She said that some have been planned for the first week. She prefers a “slow, easing into the school year”.
Social media response:
The topic of ventilation in schools caught fire a bit on Twitter after this press session. Parents and teachers are intently focussed on the new reality that begins tomorrow in schools across BC.
Public education is an essential service in BC, and teachers are required by virtue of their contracts, to fulfill that service on behalf of the government.
Last year many teachers didn’t realize they’d essentially be ‘forced to work’ during a dangerous pandemic, which led to trauma and anxiety, as has been explained by Mooring over the past year, and was noted again today.