B.C. teachers’ union calls for smaller classes, masks in back to school plan

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Vancouver: Teachers in British Columbia are calling for reduced class sizes and broader mandatory use of masks as provinces grapple with how to safely reopen schools.
The B.C. Teachers Federation issued a statement Wednesday asking the provincial government to add more physical distancing measures to its back-to-school plan to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Federation president Teri Mooring said the union has been working with the province but some of its biggest concerns have not been addressed.
“When we go into the grocery store or we go into the drug store we’re expected to wear masks, and often times the number of people in the space is also restricted,’’ she said in an interview. “So we’re looking for the same health and safety measures that we know work, that we know limit transmission of the virus, to be required in classrooms as well.’’
The federation issued seven recommendations including a reduction in class density, retrofitting classrooms with physical barriers and funding to replace outdated ventilation systems.
It also wants when masks must be worn expanded for staff and students who are 10 and older beyond common areas like hallways to anywhere that physical distancing is not possible, including classrooms, libraries and labs.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said a number of issues raised by the union have been addressed through working groups. The government’s restart plan enables districts to provide schooling within guidelines set by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
“The health and safety of teachers, students and staff is our top priority,’’ Fleming said in a statement
Class sizes average between 18 students for kindergarten and 22.4 students for grades 8 to 12, the government said.
And the government has committed $45.6 million for enhanced cleaning, hand washing stations, reusable masks and other supplies, he said.
Many provinces are requiring masks for Grades 4 through 12 but where they will be required varies.
In Manitoba, it’s wherever two metres of physical distance cannot be maintained, while in Alberta it’s in common areas like hallways and buses and in Ontario it’s anywhere indoors including classrooms.
Class attendance is required for elementary and high school students in Quebec for anyone who doesn’t have a doctor’s note indicating they’re at high risk to COVID-19 complications or live with someone who is.
Alberta is planning a full return to school but the government says measures will be tightened if an outbreak occurs and class sizes could be reduced to 20.
B.C. school districts must post final back-to-school details online by Aug. 26 but the ministry has provided some guidance on what is
expected.

By Amy Smart
The Canadian Press