Category: Union News

Teachers Continue to Prioritize Student Safety

The PRDTU continues to believe that student safety should be a number one priority of School District 52. All schools and classrooms must be safe places for students. Education and learning requires that students are safe, included, and supported. Adequate supervision in schools and supports for students are essential for student safety.    

The PRDTU continues to call on SD52 to fully staff its schools and classrooms. Safe schools require supervision, positive relationships, and support for every student. Reducing the number of classroom teachers does not help SD52 provide the supervision and support that our students deserve.

Not fully staffing school-based positions, such as by not replacing teacher counsellors in schools and not providing enough on call teachers, results in fewer supports and less supervision. Due to a shortage of teachers on call, SD52 teachers continue to report that learning specialist and other non-enrolling teachers are being pulled from their teaching responsibilities to cover absences.

Teachers are committed to providing a safe education for each student in our classrooms. That is why the PRDTU continues to call for an end to more reductions to teaching staff, an end to the failure to fill school-based teaching positions, an end to a failure to recruit and retain enough teachers on call, and an end to a failure to prioritize student learning and education as the core mission of SD52. 

Northern View Coverage: Possible Vaccination Status Reporting

To read local coverage on the Public Health Officer’s recent order that could result in SD52 requiring employees to report their vaccination status to the district and to Public Health visit here.

The PRDTU continues to call for N95 masks, improved ventilation, and quicker access to booster shots. These measures should be prioritized. If SD52 is required by Public Health to collect and disclose the vaccination status of its employees, the PRDTU will continue its calls that members’ rights to privacy be respected.

How N95 Masks Provide Better Protection from COVID-19

Click to Download Flier

The PRDTU will soon receive a shipment of N95-type masks (also known as “respirators”) for distribution to members who want to use them. These masks were donated to the BCTF by a mask manufacturer. Please look for an email from the PRDTU with information on how to request some of these masks. Masks will be shared between members who request them and the PRDTU is expecting about 300 masks.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada:

  • “In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection. No matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness.” source

In medical settings, N95 masks (respirators) are fit tested to ensure proper fit. Fit testing is not available in most non-medical settings. But even without fit testing, most N95 masks provide a better fit than other kinds of masks (such as cloth masks). Given this, the PRDTU continues to request that SD52 provide teachers and other staff with N95-types masks for use at work.

PRDTU Priorities for Schools: Safety and Education

This week, students returned to SD52 schools. Last week, new safety measures were put in place and teachers were busy preparing our classrooms and schools for the Omicron surge. Planning for safe schools, at every stage of the pandemic, is essential for students, schools, and staff. That’s why the PRDTU continues to call on the school district to develop and communicate effective plans for keeping schools safe.

To help ensure safety for students and staff alike, the PRDTU remains committed to calling for N95 masks, improved ventilation (including the provision of portable HEPA filters where required), and faster access to boosters for school workers. Safe schools and quality education remain our priorities.

For schools to remain open for education, they must be safe. Safety must come first.

The PRDTU is aware that local schools may experience staff shortages in the days ahead. If there are not enough teachers (or other staff members) to keep schools safely open, then schools may need to shut down temporarily – until staff are able to return to work. Numbers alone can’t determine if a school is staffed safely, as students require more than “eyes-on-students” supervision. Schools provide supports for students with diverse needs, which requires that staff know the students and have relationships already in place for supporting them.

The decision of what level, and specific kind, of support students require should be made by those closest to the students. Students with special needs rely on existing relationships to have their needs supported. In addition, teachers’ professional autonomy, and other aspects of the Collective Agreement, must continue to be fully respected by SD52. Respecting the Collective Agreement is essential for ensuring that teachers’ voices as professionals continue to help guide SD52’s response to the pandemic and that resources are provided to support quality education. 

We call on SD52 to provide schools, staff, and families with clear plans for how schools will remain safe, for students and staff alike, during this phase of the pandemic. These plans should include:

  • Behavioural, developmental, and educational plans for students who require individual supports
  • Developmentally appropriate (and age appreciate) levels of supports – based on the needs of students (especially for multi-grade groupings)
  • Limits on group size and maximum student-to-teacher ratios that ensure adequate and safe support is provided (these limits must not exceed the class size and class composition limits that are already in place)
  • Continuity of education plans should be developed and enhanced, ensuring that students will be provided with educational supports to help with learning throughout (and after) this phase of the pandemic and that teachers will be provided the supports needed to help students learn
  • Additional materials and supplies for non-educational activities (ensuring that educational programs do not lose materials and supplies) should be provided
  • Teacher-led decision making and communication processes should be built into the plans – keeping decisions and resources close to students
  • Information should flow from the bottom up and teachers should be provided with written plans that are consistently applied throughout the school district (adapted to the various ages and special needs of students and school communities)
  • Specific commitments to respect teachers’ professional autonomy, and other provisions of the Collective Agreement, must be part of any plans – the PRDTU must be meaningfully consulted with throughout all stages of the planning process

The PRDTU continues to call for improved safety measures in SD52 schools. We request that:

  • N95 masks be provided
  • Ventilation be improved (including the provision of portable HEPA filters where needed)
  • Faster access to booster shots for school workers be prioritized

The PRDTU will continue to advocate for safe schools and for quality education for our students. We will continue our calls for needed improvements on safety and the provision of educational supports for students during all phases of the pandemic. 

Welcome Back Message: Education is Always Essential

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). 

Delayed Start of School Update

The BCTF sent an update to Local Presidents today with more details on the delayed start of school for most students. This update included details of the orders and guidance issued by the government to school districts. Summaries of this update are provided below. The PRDTU has not heard yet from SD52. At this time, teachers should continue to plan to report (in-person) to work on January 3, 2022, as per the school calendar. 

There are two sets of guidelines/orders. One is from the Ministry of Education and the other is from the Ministry of Health. These are in addition to existing measures. 

Ministry of Education New Mandates for Schools

The Ministry of Education has mandated the schools and school districts do the following things by the deadline of January 10th:

  • Continue past safety practices given that the Omicron variant is, like other COVID-19 variants, an airborne virus. This means that effective mask and ventilation policies should continue to be in force.
    • To learn more about how COVID-19 is an airborne virus, visit the following government of Canada website: https://bit.ly/3enBUMi.
  • Update and distribute school communicable disease plans. The updated plans must include the following additional measures:
    • Maximize space between people.
    • Prevent crowding during transition and break times.
    • Hold staff-only gatherings (meetings, professional development activities) virtually.
    • Hold school gatherings (assemblies, parent-teacher interviews) virtually.
    • If holding in-person gatherings (such as inter-school sports games or theatre productions), do not exceed 50% operating capacity and do not allow spectators.
    • Limit visitors to schools to those who are directly supporting student learning or health. 
  • Extracurricular sports tournaments should be paused (defined as a single or multi-day gathering of three or more sports teams). What can continue are games between two teams and a gathering where the result will determine if a team advances to a national or international competition. 
  • Remind schools that all students, staff, and visitors are required to wear a mask indoors at school. Everyone who can (i.e., does not have a mask exemption) must wear a mask.

Ministry of Health New Guidelines for Schools

The Ministry of Health, through the BC Centre for Disease Control, has provided the following guidance for K-12 schools:

  • Minimize the size of gatherings (defined as events that bring staff and students together outside of regular learning activities) or seek a virtual alternative when possible.
  • Follow the guidelines for school extracurricular and social gatherings and events. Following applicable local, regional, or provincial public health recommendations and Orders. (Note: Most public health Orders do not apply to public schools or school districts.)
  • Any gatherings and events that involve members of the community beyond staff, students, and necessary volunteers, or that occur between schools, should be limited to 50% operating capacity. Schools are discouraged from hosting indoor events where spectators from the community are invited to attend in-person. 
  • Follow government rules on international travel of school groups.
  • Do not require proof of vaccination for educational activities (including extracurricular and before/after school programs). 
  • Arrange rooms to maximize space between students and staff.
  • Limit visitors to the school to those who directly support student learning and health.
  • Implement strategies that prevent crowding and consider ways to minimize crowding in common staff spaces.

The above guidance is in addition to other public health measures and is in place until January 31st. 

PRDTU Statement on Delayed Return to School

The PRDTU will continue to advocate for safe schools for students and staff alike. We will continue to call for:

  • The provision of N95-type masks for staff, students, and visitors in schools
  • Improvements to ventilation in schools, including the addition of portable HEPA filters where needed
  • Access to boosters so that teachers and others in schools are fully (3-shot) vaccinated

Schools should be open and safe to support students’ education. In-person schooling works best for almost all students and it is therefore important for this to be safe. The PRDTU will continue to advocate for safety at schools – because children’s education is always essential. Let’s continue to work together for safe schools – during all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PRDTU has been clear with SD52 since the start of the pandemic that:

  • Teacher workload should not increase due to COVID-19 measures. All COVID-19 measures should include adequate supports. Students deserve the same level of education during all phases of the pandemic.
  • Hybrid teaching increases teacher workload and reduces the quality of education for most students. Hybrid teaching is therefore unacceptable. Teaching should be either in-person or remote (not both).
  • Teacher autonomy, teacher workload, and all other parts of the collective agreement remain in place and must be respected – even during the pandemic. Quality education is essential and should be provided during all phases of the pandemic.

At this stage of the pandemic, the government and school district have had time to plan and prepare. We are no longer in the early days of the pandemic. Schools and classrooms should be safe. The provision of N95-type masks, HEPA portable air filters, and other measures support safe and open schools for students and staff alike. The PRDTU will continue to advocate for safe schools and a safe workplace for our members.

COVID-19 / Omicron Update

With the Omicron variant quickly spreading throughout the province, improved COVID-19 safety measures are becoming more important. According to a BCTF update to Local Presidents, the Education Ministry’s COVID-19 Steering Committee met with the BCTF right before Christmas and reported that:

  • Omicron is more transmissible than earlier variants of COVID-19.
  • Omicron in transmitted in the same way as other variants (see below for how COVID-19 spreads).
  • Much transmission continues to be in unstructured social interactions (such as in homes).

In response to this update, the BCTF made several requests to help ensure that schools are safe during this phase of the pandemic, which included the following:

  1. N95 masks should be provided at schools (the BCTF notes that quality and fit are more important now, especially given the recent recommendations of Dr. Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, on the need for higher quality masks in workplaces – see next page for details on her recent comments).
  2. Schools should be supported in enforcement of mask-wearing. Mask-wearing is more important now.
  3. Schools and classrooms should be provided with mitigation measures in buildings without adequate filters (such as portable HEPA filters in every classroom or other ways to improve ventilation). 
  4. Students and staff should be provided access to rapid testing.
  5. Keeping vaccination clinics open and speeding up booster shots should be prioritized (additional personal to make this happen should be provided). Note: This is especially important in Northern BC.
 How COVID-19 Spreads: COVID-19 Is Airborne 

According to the government of Canada, “The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets and aerosols [smaller droplets] when an infected person breathes, coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts, or talks. The droplets vary in size, from large droplets that fall to the ground rapidly (within seconds or minutes) near the infected person, to smaller droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air, especially in indoor spaces. The relative infectiousness of droplets of different sizes is not clear. Infectious droplets or aerosols may come into direct contact with the mucous membranes of another person’s nose, mouth or eyes, or they may be inhaled into their nose, mouth, airways and lungs. The virus may also spread when a person touches another person (i.e., a handshake) or a surface or an object (also referred to as a fomite) that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands” (Government of Canada, https://bit.ly/3enBUMi, last updated Dec. 14, 2021). 

GiottoPress by Enrique Chavez