Langley, B.C., teachers defy district order to work from another school during power outage

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About two dozen teachers at a Langley school staged a sit-in strike on Wednesday, in protest of an order from the school district they say was not COVID-19-safe.

The dispute came after a windstorm knocked out power to six schools in Langley Wednesday, including Shortreed Community School.

The district’s policy in such circumstances is to have teachers re-deploy to another school and work from there.

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But about two dozen teachers from Shortreed refused, arguing the move breaks COVID-19 guidelines.

When the district refused to let them work from home, they say they opted to stay at Shortreed in protest.

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“They felt like being at a school with no heat and no power was safer for them than to go to another school and expose themselves to other people,” Langley Teachers’ Association president Tanya Kerr told Global News.

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The teachers say they were told if they wouldn’t come in, they could use up their one paid personal day off instead. They say they were told if they defied the order, they could face disciplinary action.

Kerr said it makes no sense that the teachers couldn’t simply be allowed to do their work at home.

“Before the break, our district sent out letters to staff to have them make sure they take materials home every night in case they have to work remotely — It feels disingenuous,” she said.

“I really don’t understand why they need to go to another site when they can be productive at home. These are professionals.”

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In a statement, the Langley School District said it is standard practice for teachers to re-deploy to other sites during unforeseen events like power outages, “due to health and safety.”

It went on to say that plans were in place to ensure that teachers working at another site could do so safely despite COVID-19.

“All of our sites have strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place, including measures for any staff working temporarily in the building, whether they are from another school or the district office,” reads the statement.

“The district assures students, staff, and families that our schools are safe.”

Parents Global News spoke with backed the teachers’ position.

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Cashmere Roder, vice-president of the school’s parent advisory council, said the district has had months to draw up a new policy for power outages within the context of COVID-19.

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“I find it strange that they would require an entire school of teachers that have their own cohort, everyone has their own plan, we’re up in our small little community, and they’re just going to spread them throughout Langley and send them to other schools. It really doesn’t seem like that is a really smart choice at the moment,” she said.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. kids return to school Monday but anxiety among some parents remains high

Roder described the requirement that teachers use up their personal day off as “insulting,” and said instructors were being forced to make an unfair choice.

“What is more important, your job, the children you’re teaching, or the safety of your own family?”

Parent Cari Pritchard said the move also put kids’ safety at risk, and that she planned to keep her own children home from school on Thursday as a result.

“Absolutely ridiculous — it’s putting the teachers at complete exposure of other germs, and then they teach our kids the next day?” she said.

“We totally support them working from home, and they’ve been doing a wonderful job at this school keeping sicknesses out, following all the rules, we’ve had zero exposure to COVID.”