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Some B.C. teachers scared of returning to classrooms Monday
VANCOUVER -- While it’s optional for kindergarten to Grade 12 students to return to the classroom on Monday, teachers are expected to be there.
“Teachers feel like they’re being forced to do something they may not feel prepared to do in some cases,” said Patti Bacchus, the former chair of the Vancouver School Board and education columnist with the Georgia Straight. She says teachers who are afraid to speak out publicly have been contacting her.
“I started getting message after message after message including teachers who have Type 1 diabetes and other complications and asked to work from home and were told no. Some in their last trimester of difficult pregnancies who were told nope, you have to be on site,” said Bacchus, adding the alternative would be an unpaid leave.
She believes that goes against what Premier John Horgan has been saying during the pandemic. “He said the employers shouldn’t be pressuring people back to working on site if they’re not comfortable,” said Bacchus.
“Certainly there are staff that have applied for leaves for a variety of reasons their own health is comprised or they have other complexities they need to work through. And on a case by case basis we are working with staff with respect to their leaves,” said Vancouver school superintendent Suzanne Hoffman.
Education Minister Rob Fleming says school districts are still working through their requests for leave, but believes any teacher with underlying health conditions should be accommodated.
“The law is clear on that and we know districts are working with local teachers associations to do just that,” said Fleming. He believes schools will be safe for teacher and students when in-class instruction resumes on Monday, adding “We have a very robust set of guidelines tailored to the school environment.”
Bacchus hopes those guidelines include who will clean the common spaces and how often, saying teachers are “concerned about their levels of responsibility for keeping students safe and themselves, and questions about janitorial staffing capacity, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.”
The president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, Teri Mooring, is hearing concerns from some members but says there is some oversight.
"There are procedures in place if there is a school that isn’t in compliance, we have ways to deal with that so that oversight is going to be important," Mooring said.
While teachers are thankful for the oversight, some worry fixing problems after schools open on Monday could be too late.
“They’re all wanting this to work,” said Bacchus. “But some people are truly afraid, and I think for some pretty good reasons.”