'The ministry has failed': B.C. teachers' union takes pandemic concerns to Labour Relations Board
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. Teachers' Federation has filed an application with the Labour Relations Board to try to force a conversation with the province, saying its members feel their concerns around COVID-19 safety are not being heard.
“The BCTF would not be taking this step if we didn’t feel the government had failed to keep students and teachers safe,” said union president Teri Mooring. "Government has put a plan in place, school districts have developed their own plans with no enforcement mechanisms.”
She outlined a number of issues teachers have reported since the start of the school year, including a lack of enforcement of school mask policy and a "breakdown" of the province's cohort model.
“Classrooms are not being cleaned consistently, teachers and students are not getting PPE consistently,” Mooring said.
This comes as four more schools have identified potential COVID-19 exposures. There was one at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in Surrey, just days after a photo surfaced showing crowded students outside the school. Officials say someone with the virus was in Lord Tweedsmuir on Monday and Tuesday.
The other exposures were identified at North Surrey Secondary, T.E. Scott Elementary and Morgan Elementary.
Students attending Lord Tweedsmuir were surprised to learn of the potential exposure Friday.
“I thought they would tell us to stay home for a bit,” said Nazleen Mohar, a Grade 11 student. And Grade 10 student Ethan Curran thought while it was bound to happen, “the first week is pretty crazy.”
“It’s only a matter of time in our view that in-school transmission begins,” said Mooring, which is why the union is pushing pushing its concerns forward.
But Minister of Education Rob Fleming disputed many of the BCTF’s concerns.
“There is an abundance of masks in the school system, a lot of students arrived day one with their own,” he said, adding there are also more than 100,000 face shields in the system.
In addressing the mask policies, Fleming said their requirements are clear on who needs to where them and when. And on the cohort concerns, Fleming said: “What we’ve heard from school teams and administrators is the cohort model is working very well within the hours of school.”
Fleming would not speak to the BCTF’s application, saying he will allow the independent labour board to do its job.
“What you’re seeing around the province is an incredible amount of team work and the focus is on the huge task that’s been accomplished which is to have a successful orientation week,” said the education minister. "We’ve been able to manage this by having a collaborative approach and that’s our commitment moving forward.”
The BCTF would not say whether job action is completely off the table but said that's "the kind of thing we’re trying to prevent.”
Mooring expects talks to begin with the Labour Relations Board next week.