Teachers' group calls for better anti-COVID measures

The president of the Saanich Teachers’ Association is calling on local candidates in the provincial election to commit to improving health in schools — through steps like reducing class sizes to control the ­presence of COVID-19.

“Since schools reopened, teachers have been faced with inadequate and confusing health and safety measures from the province,” Don Peterson said. “Teachers are advocating for clearer health and safety measures, stricter and more thorough cleaning protocols, and smaller class sizes to reduce the risk of virus transmission.”

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He said the Saanich School District, which includes the ridings of Saanich North and the Islands and Saanich South, is also dealing with a shortage of custodians.

Peterson called on candidates from the Green Party, NDP and Liberals to advocate for dealing with such issues.

A key concern for his association, which has about 600 members, is tightening the wording in some provincial COVID regulations, Peterson said.

He said one example is staff meetings, where staff members who meet outside of their learning groups are told they should participate virtually — not that they have to. “There tends to be a lot of confusion in and around that in regard to what should be happening.”

The Ministry of Education responded by pointing to the public-health guidance document for kindergarten-Grade 12, put together by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health. The document says it provides information “to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and maintain a safe and health school environment for students, families and staff.”

It says that giving students full-time, in-person learning offers them societal and individual benefits.

“These need to be balanced against the potential risk of COVID-19 spread and any evidence of benefit from school closures,” the document says.

Peterson said the district has been lucky so far in avoiding COVID-19, but noted that there have been two instances of COVID-19 occurring in Vancouver Island schools since classes started in September. There has been one infection at Alberni Secondary in Port Alberni and one at Carihi Secondary in Campbell River.

People wonder how such a situation would be handled here, Peterson said. “There’s a lot of questions on who’s going to be notified, how are people going to be notified when we come to a point of exposure.”

In addition, Peterson urged candidates to push for increased provincial education funding that ensures contract language on class size and composition can be followed. “Since our class size and composition language was restored in 2016, after being illegally stripped by the Liberal government in 2002, we have yet to see sufficient funding being funnelled into our schools to support that language,” he said.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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