The head of B.C’s teachers’ union said she is happy to see the government planning for back-to-school in the fall but that the details of how newly announced funding will be spent is key.
The education minister announced $25.6 million in new one-time funding to support back-to-school this fall. Broken down, that provides $14.4 million for health and safety, cleaning and supplies, $5 million to support Indigenous students, $5 million for mental health supports and $1.2 million for independent schools.
Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Union, said that she’s watching to make sure the $18 million dedicated to direct student services actually gets there.
“Part of our concern, of course, and is that what we’re hearing from some districts is that they’re going to be laying off and some have already laid off teachers and education assistance, while at the same time, we’re seeing $18 million being dedicated to supporting student learning,” Mooring said. “And those two things don’t go together.”
But Mooring said that June is still very early to discuss specifics, or to know what will be happening in, during September.
“I also totally appreciate the fact that we’re not going to know what’s going to happen with masks until August, it’s a long time between now and August. pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that it can be unpredictable,” she said, noting that she’d like to see higher immunization rates among the 12 to 17 year old cohort by the end of summer.
Mooring would also like to see what the BCTF has been pushing for all school year – more regional variation.
“We might need to take a regional approach in September for the fall, at least, where we see potentially still high rates of community transmission in some areas and low vaccination rates,” she said. “We also don’t know when secondary school students – and this will the 12 to 17-year-olds – will get their second shot.”
Regardless of where the pandemic goes, Mooring said she wants to see the BCTF’s other repeated request.
“This whole entire school year, we have never received current data, it’s always been legacy data,” she said, adding that more recent data would allow parents or teachers to assess their level of risk in a particular community and show if there is a need to go to remote.
There has been some work, Mooring said, on improving ventilation, but has it been enough?
“The short answer is no,” she told Black Press Media by phone.
“Just in May we got agreements from government that they would have worked with us on identifying schools that had adequate ventilation, that work is still ongoing,” Mooring said. “It was very late coming, because we knew about how the virus transmitted far earlier than that.”
But both improved ventilation and overall cleaning and sanitation of schools remains important to Mooring going forward.
“There is a need to ‘pandemic proof’ our schools,” she said, noting that even prior to the pandemic schools were not being cleaned well enough, ventilation systems were inadequate and there were too few hand-washing stations.
At the top of Mooring’s wish list next year, however, a year that is less “stressful and difficult,” with measures like the mask mandate – called for in September, brought in for Grades 4 and up in late March – and ventilation improvements brought in earlier in the year.
“I just seems like there was such a resistance and ideological resistance to some of the safety measures that ought to be in place in B.C., and were in place in other jurisdictions.”