As British Columbia continues through its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) is urging the province to allow for hybrid learning, and to increase transparency when it comes to exposures and in-school transmissions.
Teri Mooring, President of the BCTF, tells Daily Hive that it’s a message they’ve been pushing for quite some time. And with teachers and school staff not included in BC’s new expedited workplace closure orders, it’s only that much more important.
“Whenever there’s a discrepancy between the rules for schools and the rules for other workplaces, it’s exceedingly problematic,” Mooring says in an interview. “So it was very disappointing to see that.”
Some schools throughout the province have already gone through what Mooring describes as “functional outbreaks” — when a school has to close because there isn’t enough staff to keep it running. It’s been seen in both the public and private system and replacement teachers aren’t always available.
“What’s happening in these situations, in some cases, councillors and support teachers are being pulled to try and fill in for these teachers who are ill,” Mooring explains. “And often, those teachers are not told the reason why that teacher is away.”
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Mooring says that the lack of information affects both teachers and families, noting that confidentiality is used as a “thinly veiled excuse” to not share data.
“Assertions are being made like ‘schools are the safest place for students’ or ‘when students aren’t at school, the number of COVID-19 cases in the community increase,'” she argues. “We know they’re collecting the data because, presumably, they’re using data when making these assertions. But they’re not sharing it and it needs to be shared publicly.”
The lack of information is also affecting families as well, especially when it comes to exposure notices being sent home. Mooring says that they’re hearing more and more that families don’t feel like they have enough information on whether they want their children to return to school or stay home. She says that when an exposure notice is issued, it’s “not unusual” to see between 30% to 40% of the school population away.
“What we see are many other families that are not in those classes keeping their children home from school,” she explains. “Because they don’t know what’s going on, they just haven’t been given any information besides that there was an exposure at that school.”
And with a spike in COVID-19 cases, as well as an increase in variants of concern, the BCTF is arguing that hybrid and online learning models need to be in consideration.
The provincial government currently has a framework for K-12 education that ranges from full-time, in-person classes and remote learning for all. But it hasn’t been updated since last July and it’s unclear what it would take for the province to switch stages.
“Online learning needs to be in the equation, especially in areas which are hard hit,” Mooring stresses. “And keep in mind, when we went to full online learning last spring, we still had teachers providing support for students with diverse learning needs, medical needs, and children of frontline workers.”
“When community transmission rates get to a certain point, schools should perhaps move to a hybrid or an online model and we should be able to do that regionally. That’s an ongoing conversation but look how far we are into the pandemic and that criteria has not been established.”
The decision to keep in-person learning at this time has been raised on multiple occasions with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. She maintains, however, that when kids are not in school, more community transmission is likely to be seen.
“The structured time and the important structure that school gives to families and communities is really important, and it’s a less risky environment,” Henry said during a press conference.
“We also heard loud and clear from families and educators that when we had the shutdown of schools last year, that it impacted negatively across the board, so we need to pay attention to that too.”