The $242 million in federal funding earmarked for B.C.’s return to in-class instruction should be used to decrease class sizes and promote physical distancing, according to the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF).
That funding is B.C.'s portion of the total $2 billion – the “Safe Return to School Fund” –set aside by the federal government to help provinces and territories safely reopen schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent to Minister of Education Rob Fleming, BCTF president Teri Mooring called the funding a “gamechanger for B.C.’s K-12 restart plan,” and said it could be used to address many of the health and safety concerns that teachers and parents have.
“Teachers and parents are being told to do one thing in their home and community lives, but then told they can ignore the most important preventative measure, physical distancing, in classrooms,” Mooring’s letter reads.
She added that while union members understand the learning group model helps with contact tracing and controlling potential COVID-19 outbreaks, it’s “not a sufficient replacement for actual physical distancing.”
Key areas where the union would like to see the funding applied are:
- Smaller classes to allow for physical distancing across all grades;
- Hybrid and remote options in every school district to help reduce class sizes and school density, and protect students and staff members, or their families, who are more vulnerable due to existing health concerns;
- Appropriate density and spacing for people working and learning in adult education;
- More counsellors to support students’ mental health.
The union is also asking for assurance that students who opt into remote learning remain connected to their school and space is available to them if they return to in-class instruction.
“We all want our schools to reopen and teachers want to welcome our students back enthusiastically,” said Mooring in the letter.
She added that the government has “a duty and responsibility” to make the return to school as safe as possible, and the federal funding provides an opportunity to make “much-needed improvements to the restart plan.”
Schools are set to reopen after Labour Day, as mandated by the Ministry of Education, with students back in class on Sept. 10 – two days after teachers and other staff return.
Each school district across the province was required to create its own plan for the restart of schools, which then needed to be approved by the education ministry.