VANCOUVER -- With just a week to go before the new school year is scheduled to begin, the B.C. Teachers Federation has written an open letter to the province’s education minister. The letter demands that $242 million of new federal money be used to fund online options and hire new teachers, so class sizes can be smaller and physical distancing possible in classrooms.

“This has been an issue we have been long asking for,” said union president Teri Mooring. “This is something very doable within that amount of money. It would be a real shame for us to have to go to the labour relations board as they did in Ontario. That shouldn’t be an option that we have to look at. Instead, with $242 million dollars, we should be able to see additional teachers being hired for the purpose of reducing classroom density.”

Mooring says the teachers’ union isn’t “making any threats,” but if the BCTF’s demands aren’t met, the union hasn’t ruled out going to WorkSafeBC.

“Those are avenues that every worker in B.C. has a right to look at,” she said. “And those are things we don’t feel like we should have to do, because we think those measures should be in place.”

Mooring believes if every district has funding to offer a distance learning option, class sizes would be smaller because some students would choose to learn at home. That’s something Vancouver’s school district, which is offering an online option, thinks could happen.

“Understanding some students would not be present to start the school year, that does enable classrooms to have greater physical distancing if the numbers are lower in those classes,” said Vancouver School District superintendent Suzanne Hoffman.

Surrey is also giving students the option of starting the school year online, but superintendent Jordan Tinney isn’t sure that will mean smaller class sizes at every school, and would appreciate extra funding to hire more teachers.

“I’m absolutely hoping that money could be put towards staffing. That’s the big thing that school districts need to make these options work,” said Tinney.

Time is running out, but Mooring says she’s hopeful extra funding can be in place for smaller classes by the time students return next week.

“What we are looking for are measures that are going to reduce anxiety and increase safety in schools,” she said. “And that is something we are continuing to press on.”  

The full text of the BCTF's letter to the minister is embedded below.