Western Canadian teachers call for more protection after schools reopen – BC News


Elementary schools and colleges in western Canada have reopened after the Christmas holidays, as provincial governments faced criticism from teachers over what they say is a lack of safeguards against the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Schools in British Columbia and Alberta reopened Monday with health and education officials stressing the need for personal learning. Schools in Saskatchewan returned the previous week as planned.

The leaders of the teachers’ associations in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have been critical of how the reopening of schools has been handled and the stress it has put on staff.

“We have situations where learning assistants or learning resource teachers who are specialized teachers are being pulled out of their duties into the classrooms to cover staff shortages,” said Patrick Maze, head of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. “The learning program suffers when you have so many transitions going on in schools.”

The chairman of the BC Teachers’ Federation agreed with these concerns. Teri Mooring said teachers want greater access to N95 masks in schools as well as prioritizing booster vaccines.

Four BC schools announced functional closures this week, meaning there were not enough staff to teach students.

“We are concerned that there will be many more functional closures. It is difficult for us to understand why the additional security measures we are calling for will not be in place,” Mooring said in an interview.

She said that refusing to meet union requests could lead to a shortage of staff in the schools.

“We believe with these safeguards, teachers and support staff are more likely to stay healthy,” she said. “This whole issue of making the absolute minimum has always been an issue in education. We want to see a more preventative approach rather than an absolute minimum approach.”

BC Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said in an interview that teachers would not be prioritized for vaccines and the government has taken steps to deal with risks from the virus.

“It’s a balancing act. One thing we’ve been very determined about in BC … is making sure we keep children and young people at the center of our decision-making. We know how important it is to have access to personal learning, said Jennifer Whiteside.

But Cameron Phillips, a parent and middle school teacher in Vancouver, said he questions whether the BC government is thinking about the long-term health effects that students face.

Phillips said he and his wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided to keep their children at home this week as they assess the COVID-19 situation in the schools.

“As a parent, I am concerned about the future health of my children,” he said. “As a teacher, I love my children. I love my students. I know that the school I teach has many generations of families. There are so many students in my classes who are afraid to take it home to aunt. or grandmother and cause suffering. or chaos in their families. “

Phillips said he is “confused” by the reluctance to provide N95 masks to students and staff, and he would like to see improved ventilation in schools.

Saskatchewan’s senior medical officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said schools have done a commendable job of continuing personal learning in a safe way.

“One thing we have seen is how important it is to maintain learning in the classroom as much as possible and at the same time accept a higher transmission that is not only unique to the school, it happens in healthcare, schools, all workplaces,” he said.

In Alberta, when the number of Omicron infections hit a record high this week, the president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he was concerned about the future of students in the classroom because “community spread resonates in schools.”

“I expect we will have more of what we saw this year, but it can be intensified so we will see more absenteeism, we will see more inability for schools to fill absent teachers,” Jason Schilling said Friday.

Alberta has left it to schools to contact trace infections.

Hundreds of students and dozens of teachers were reported absent on the Edmonton Public Schools board website Thursday. Out of 105,151 students under the ward, 3.16 percent were absent due to COVID-19, and 3.56 percent were absent due to other illness.

The Calgary Board of Education also said its absenteeism rate for grade 12 students was 20.2 percent on Wednesday.

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