As teachers return to school in the midst of the Omicron surge, let’s reflect on why safe access to education matters so much for our students and our community. Keeping schools safe and open matters because education is always essential. Keeping schools safe and open for learning ensures that education can continue. Education is the essential service that schools and teachers provide.
Throughout the pandemic, the PRDTU has promoted health and safety measures for staff and students alike. We were amongst the first local teachers’ unions to advocate for universal mask mandates in schools and we proposed what has become the BCTF policy on the paramount duty of the union to protect the safety of school workers during a public health emergency. The BCTF’s current policy on responding to a public health emergency, developed by the PRDTU and approved at the BCTF Annual General Meeting, calls on the union to demand that precautionary and universal protections be provided for everyone in our schools – students and staff alike.
We will continue our union’s strong advocacy for safe schools. Given that education is always essential, the quality of the education provided throughout the pandemic matters. Our students depend on school for learning. In-person schooling works best for most students. That is why the PRDTU continues to advocate to keep schools safe for everyone, so that we can continue teaching students in schools and classrooms.
Teachers know that our students need an education to survive and thrive in the world today. That motivates us as professionals. Literacy, critical thinking, and knowledge are especially important today, as students will enter a world full of misinformation. We’ll all depend on our future leaders having the skills and knowledge to value and understand science, democracy, and public institutions. Students also rely on schools for a safe place to be, for access to healthy food, and to be part of a supportive and caring community.
Schools are communities of people – all of whom are connected to the larger community. Schools depend on the people in them to be safe. The safety of school workers is therefore a requirement for quality education to continue. Keeping schools safely open requires specific measures, such as the provision of N95-type masks, adequate ventilation and air filtration, and access to boosters – so all school workers are able to be fully (3-shot) vaccinated.
Other educational measures are important too. Schools must support students in other ways that will also be impacted by the Omicron surge. Class size, class composition, TTOC coverage, and teacher workload are important factors in quality education for all students. SD52 already started the year with over 60% of its classrooms at overcapacity levels. Even before Omicron, SD52 teachers reported a TTOC shortage that makes it hard for some leaves to be covered. Our students expect SD52 to do its job in supporting quality education throughout all phases of the pandemic. More leadership is required to overcome these and other challenges.
Teachers and others can continue to help promote the provision of quality education during the current phase of the pandemic by:
- Advocating for the provision of N95-type masks, improved ventilation (including HEPA filters in rooms without adequate filtration or ventilation), and for fast access to boosters so that all school workers can be fully (3-shot) vaccinated.
- Informing students and families of the importance for students (and staff) to remain at home if sick. Alerting students and families to the latest public health requirements for isolation will help keep schools open by reducing transmission in schools and classrooms.
- Insisting that students continue to receive quality in-person education during all phases of the pandemic – including by pushing back on measures that would reduce educational supports for students. Almost all students learn best through in-person teaching, which is why it’s so important for schools to remain safely open.
The government and school district have had time to plan for the current phase of the pandemic. We are no longer in the “early days” when there was no time to prepare. Let’s continue to insist that education be treated as the essential service that it is (and always has been).