B.C. teachers say delayed back-to-school plan not enough to address Omicron concerns

Click to play video: '‘Inevitable’ that BC back to class will be online' ‘Inevitable’ that BC back to class will be online
Due to the rapid surge in COVID-19 cases, B.C. is delaying the return to school for most students. BCTF president Teri Mooring talks about whether the measure goes far enough to address the concerns of teachers. – Dec 30, 2021

The union representing B.C. teachers says it’s pleased the province has pushed back the return to classes in January, but that the province’s plan doesn’t go far enough.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Wednesday that B.C. would delay the start of the school year for most students until Jan. 10, 2022.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring told Global News Thursday that the delay would give staff crucial time to plan safety measures for students to reduce congestion in common areas and to physically separate kids as much as possible.

Read more: B.C. delaying start of school until Jan. 10 for most K to 12 students

But she said the province’s plan does nothing to alleviate large class sizes or address concerns about mask quality.

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“(We want) N95 masks for children and for teachers — we know mask quality is really important when it comes to Omicron,” she said.

“We don’t think families should have to be supplying maks themselves. We know all families cannot afford to supply their children with masks.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: BC to stagger reopening of schools amid Omicron surge' COVID-19: BC to stagger reopening of schools amid Omicron surge
COVID-19: BC to stagger reopening of schools amid Omicron surge – Dec 29, 2021

Teachers were also disappointed that the province did not announce a plan to speed up booster shots for school staff, Mooring said.

While teachers were prioritized in the vaccine rollout last spring, supply disruptions meant that many didn’t actually get their shot until their scheduled slot in the age-based rollout.

With the province sticking with its six- to eight-month gap for boosters after second shots, most teachers will be back in the classroom long before they get their invite for a third dose, she said.

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“We think (prioritizing boosters) will help to keep schools open, because we’re really concerned about staffing in schools,” Mooring said.

Read more: Union calls for delayed return to class, priority booster shots for B.C. teachers

“The potential is we will have a lot of people sick, children and adults sick with Omicron. And we also have a teacher and educational assistant shortage. We do not have enough replacement teachers or replacement EAs even when we’re not in a pandemic.”

Under the plan announced Wednesday, children with special needs and the children of health-care workers will return to class on Jan. 3 or Jan. 4, as originally planned, as will teachers.

Educators will spend the extra week working out staggered start times and other tools to allow for more effective contact tracing.

School staff will also switch to virtual meetings, and all in-person assemblies and extra-curricular sports tournaments have been suspended.

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