The head of the union representing B.C.’s teachers said although there have been positives with how the voluntary June 1 school restart has gone, it’s not a sustainable model for the longterm.
“It’s been extraordinarily challenging,” B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said Tuesday (June 16).
“Part of the challenge has been for teachers balancing the remote learning that most students are still engaging in with in-class learning.”
According to the education ministry, about 30 per cent of students returned – part time – to classrooms in the first week of June. School was initially suspended after spring break in March as B.C. brought in a multitude of rules and restrictions in an attempt to try to control the spread of COVID-19. Speaking earlier this week, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were no known cases of the novel coronavirus spread in schools since June 1.
While the system is not ideal, Mooring was quick to point out that the past few months have been an emergency situation.
“We never would have designed anything like this [otherwise],” she said.
“When we went to remote learning, it was overnight; one day we were in schools, and the next day practically, we were doing remote learning.”
Despite the difficulties in teachers having both in-class and online instruction, Mooring said bringing some students back to school has been beneficial.
“We have a lot of vulnerable learners in our system and remote learning doesn’t work for them,” Mooring said.
“This whole remote learning and everything we’re doing right now really does sort of differentiate between students who are in a more privileged situation and those students who are more vulnerable.”
Some students have been dealing with food insecurity and housing insecurity, Mooring said, as well as possible unemployment in the family and just a general lack of certainty amid a pandemic. But despite the availability of in-class instructions – Mooring said if a student needs to, they can come in every day – some of those who need it most aren’t returning.
Part of that is the challenge of getting to school, since some districts have not restarted their school bus programs. But for others, teachers simply don’t know.
“It’s hard to know if they’re okay. And that’s extremely stressful.”
Mooring said while normal, in-class instruction would be ideal from an education perspective, teachers are working under the assumption that fall will bring with it a hybrid learning model. The BCTF is working with the province to create a committee to plan for the fall that’s more sustainable than the June re-start has been.
Mooring said the talks have been going well with the province and have been different in tone than the bargaining the union and the NDP have been engaged with almost since the last election.
“There has been a very high level of cooperation and communication,” she said, adding that it’s been a relief to teachers scrambling to make the best of an emergency situation.
Part of conversations about September will need to include hiring more staff, she noted.
“So that one teacher is not doing both the in-class learning and the remote learning.”
Some teachers will also not be able to return for personal health reasons, while those that do will need access to personal protective equipment – and the same will apply to students.
“We can’t let social inequity determine whether a student who wants to wear PPE gets to or not.”
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