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Parents group calls on B.C. to let teachers work from home during school closures

Click to play video 'B.C. parent advisory council calls on province to amend school policy with COVID-19 safety in mind' B.C. parent advisory council calls on province to amend school policy with COVID-19 safety in mind
The policy allows school staff to be temporarily moved to different schools during unforeseen circumstances. It comes after a group of teachers stood their ground last Wednesday, refusing to work at another school when a windstorm knocked out power to theirs. Kristen Robinson reports – Jan 17, 2021

Parents at a Langley school that was the centre of a dispute around COVID-19 safety last week are calling on the province to let teachers work from home in emergency situations where a school is forced to close.

Teachers at Aldergrove’s Shortreed Community Elementary staged a sit-in protest on Wednesday, after a windstorm knocked out power to the building.

Click to play video 'Langley teachers stand ground over COVID-19 concerns' Langley teachers stand ground over COVID-19 concerns
Langley teachers stand ground over COVID-19 concerns – Jan 13, 2021

The Langley School District’s standard policy in such cases is to re-deploy teachers to other schools. But a number of instructors refused, citing COVID-19 safety.

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

Amy Synesael, president of the Shortreed Parents Advisory Council penned a letter to Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside asking her to direct all B.C. school districts to suspend similar policies during COVID-19.

“We’re asking the ministry to consider providing a directive to school districts to allow staff to work from home when there’s situations like this such as power outages or snow days, because we know they’re perfectly capable of working from home, and its much safer,” she said.

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Black shirt day marked by many B.C. schools – Jan 15, 2021

The Shortreed teachers allege they were given the option of using up their one paid day off if they didn’t want to re-deploy to another school, and that if they refused they faced potential discipline.

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At the time, the Langley School District said strict safety protocols were in place at the alternate location.

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But Synesael argued that even with the best measures in place, there could still be potential exposures in hallways, bathrooms and cafeterias.

READ MORE: New B.C. COVID-19 school exposures in 2021

“Our kids are in their own cohorts with their teacher, and they’re not even allowed to mix cohorts on the playground and play with other kids, and yet our teachers are expected to go to a totally different school and mix and mingle with other teachers,” she said.

“If anything was picked up that’s now spreading to our class. Not to mention anything that our teachers could be bringing into that school as well. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Click to play video 'VCH finds COVID-19 transmission in schools is low. What does that mean for schools in Fraser Health?' VCH finds COVID-19 transmission in schools is low. What does that mean for schools in Fraser Health?
VCH finds COVID-19 transmission in schools is low. What does that mean for schools in Fraser Health? – Jan 15, 2021

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said there’s no reason teachers around B.C. can’t do meetings or prep work from their computers at home, noting they did so last spring during the first wave of the pandemic.

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The power outage in Langley is unlikely to be the last time a school is forced to close unexpectedly before the pandemic is over, she added.

READ MORE: B.C. should join other provinces in releasing list of school-related COVID-19 cases: teachers’ union

“A lot of policies have been changed during the pandemic,” she said.

“There needs to be a better plan in place. And it makes sense to me that there should be some provincial guidance on this so that situations like this are prevented — no employee should be put in a position where they are feeling unsafe.”

The Ministry of Education did not respond to the idea of directing districts around the province Sunday, but said it was following up with the Langley School District.

“While this decision was made at the local level, I’ve directed ministry staff to follow up with the district to understand this staffing decision and to ensure health and safety protocols were followed and consider if further updates are required,” reads a statement from the minister.

“We remain committed to working with our education partners, as well as public health officials on a continuous review of school guidelines.”

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Recent data from Vancouver Coastal Health found COVID-19 transmission occurred in fewer than 10 per cent of exposures in a school setting.

At the province’s last modelling update in December, officials said transmission occurred in about 12.8 per cent of exposures in Fraser Health.

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