A new ad produced by the B.C. government featuring provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is earning poor marks from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
The 30-second spot is aimed at parents and students heading back to class next month under new COVID-19 protocols.
In the ad, Henry runs through a few of the precautions that will be in place: frequent hand washing, student learning cohorts and the use of masks in some situation.
Union president Teri Mooring says the advertisement doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what schools will look like.
“It saddens me that Dr. Henry was used in this ad,” she said.
“It’s unfortunately a really unrealistic depiction of what classrooms are going to look like. They won’t have seven children in them. There are plenty of classrooms without a sink.”
Mooring said many classrooms do not have windows that open, and questioned the quality of ventilation in others. She said she wants to see hand washing stations in all classrooms, but that some may only have hand sanitizer instead.
The union has been pressing for smaller class sizes and a requirement that all children Grade 4 and up be required to wear masks in classroom settings.
Currently, older students and teachers will only need to wear them in high-traffic areas.
“We’re going to see classrooms with desks close together, with children close together,” said Mooring.
“In that ad, we didn’t see 30 to 32 17-year-olds. It’s unfortunate.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said the ad is meant to build families’ confidence about “the strict health and safety measures that are in place to protect students and staff” and to show they were developed in partnership with public health.
“In order to videotape the ad, the number of students in the room was limited for health and safety reasons and the children were placed at safe distances from each other,” reads the statement.
“The team worked closely with (the) school principal to make sure the desk placement realistically reflected the classroom set up for the coming year.”
Education Minister Rob Fleming has maintained that the province’s mask policy is based on the best advice from health officials on how to prevent transmission.
The NDP government also maintains that class sizes are the lowest that they have been in years.
BC Liberal MLA and education critic Dan Davies, himself a former teacher, said the ad does not reflect the reality of today’s classrooms.
“It was not a full classroom. And I think that’s the real tone deaf piece,” he said.
“It doesn’t really reflect what is happening out there. People are nervous, families are nervous. There’s a lot of anxiety on the back to school plan which, the biggest issue here isn’t really a plan.
The ad has also drawn criticism online, with many social media users saying the classroom setting that was used is unrealistic.
Others pointed out that the only child seen wearing a mask in the ad is Asian.
Students will return to class on Sept. 10, with elementary students grouped in to learning groups of 60 or fewer people and high school students in groups of 120 or fewer.
COVID-19 safety plans will otherwise vary by district. Some districts have opted for hybrid in-person and online models and a number have settled on a “quarter system” for secondary students.