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BC Teachers’ Federation pushing for clearer mask policy, more remote learning options

Click to play video 'B.C. teachers say they will keep pressing government to increase school safety' B.C. teachers say they will keep pressing government to increase school safety
The B.C. Teachers Federation says it is willing to keep up the pressure on the provincial government to ensure the $242-million pledged by Ottawa is spent on making the return to school next week as safe as possible for teachers and students. Richard Zussman reports

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is looking for a clearer policy from the provincial government on mask wearing in B.C. schools and additional financial support to hire new teachers in an effort to allow remote learning options.

Speaking to Mike Smyth on CKNW’s Mike Smyth Show, BCTF President Teri Mooring said teachers are still hopeful the province will make changes before school returns next week.

“What we are doing is working within the system to effect those changes. We have been working cooperatively with government the whole time,” Mooring said.

“School will start on Sept. 8. There is an orientation week. Teachers will be receiving health and safety training.”

Read more: B.C. education minister says some Ottawa funds will support new at-home learning options

Teachers are expected to be back in the classroom on Sept. 8 and 9. Students are expected to be back by Sept. 10 in most school districts.

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The teachers’ union is focused on putting pressure on school districts and the province around how $242 million from the federal government will be spent on a return to school.

Education Minister Rob Fleming told reporters on Tuesday he expects some of the money to be spend on hiring additional teaching resources to promote remote learning.

There are still questions about what remote learning will look like but both the Vancouver and Surrey school districts are making at-home learning options possible for all students.

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In the Vancouver School District, for example, around 30 per cent of parents surveyed wanted an at-home or hybrid option for their kids.

Click to play video 'B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming outlines the province’s coronavirus back-to-school plan' B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming outlines the province’s coronavirus back-to-school plan
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming outlines the province’s coronavirus back-to-school plan

“It may well be in districts that online learning does reduce the numbers in a school,” Fleming said.

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“These additional options after surveying parents after July 29 are things we have learned.”

Teachers are especially concerned about reducing classroom density. There is optimism remote options will allow for more space for teachers, staff and students to physically distance in the classroom.

The province has also said there will parts of schools where mask wearing in mandatory, but that wearing a mask in the classroom will not be required.

Mooring was pressed multiple times in the interview about whether the union would consider job action if there is not a more robust mask policy or more remote options in place by next week.

The union president would not rule out teachers walking out of the classroom but also did not signal it was anything currently under discussion.

Click to play video 'Hinshaw says masks in school need to be part of the ‘new normal’' Hinshaw says masks in school need to be part of the ‘new normal’
Hinshaw says masks in school need to be part of the ‘new normal’

“It would be an unfortunate turn of events, but we will have to see how things go,” Mooring told Smyth.

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In an email, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says any strike talk is premature and the union is not in a position to strike as there is no bargaining. The union would be required to work with its own Representative Assembly to discuss and authorize a vote.

No discussion has even occurred and there is no assembly scheduled until the end of October.

“What I anticipate is teachers have access to masks, to face shields and I anticipate they will be wearing them,” Mooring said.

“What we are worried (about) is if there is an outbreak, which is likely because there have been in other jurisdictions, we need to be able to tell our students and families of students that we have done everything possible to make a return to school as safe as possible.”